Sunday, 22 July 2012

Elephant No. 294: Fruit Art

I've never made a design with fruit before, but it seemed like an interesting—and tasty—thing to try for today's elephant.

I took my original inspiration from paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who made a name for himself by painting faces composed entirely of fruit, vegetables, fish, books, and other non-human objects. So unusual were his paintings, that the style was not really imitated until the advent of the Surrealists nearly four centuries later. In some circles, he is even considered a forerunner of Surrealism.

The Summer, 1573.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593)
Collection of the Louvre, Paris

In addition to paintings, people also create intricate designs using actual fruit. These range from fruit bouquets to television commercials animated using berries and other small pieces of fruit.

Fruit art Snow White by Prudence Staite.

It was actually difficult to find an image made with fruit like the one above. There are lots of carved fruits, and lots of fruit bouquets and arrangements to be found, but there didn't seem to be a lot of actual chopped-fruit art. Maybe I'm just not using the right online search terms.

I thought it might be interesting to try something relatively realistic—although obviously not in real elephant colours—so I chose to work from a photograph. This is the photograph I chose:

Elephant drinking in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, 2007.
Photo: Nick Brandt

I started with a trip to the grocery store, where I chose fruit based partly on colour, and partly on size. This is what I ended up with, although in different quantities than what you see here. I had blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, nectarines, apricots, kiwi fruit, apples and a lemon.

As my "canvas" I used a cookie sheet, which was more or less the format of the photograph. I covered it with foil because it's been well-used, and was ugly.

I quickly discovered that I would basically need a canvas the size of tabletop to do the photograph justice, even in a very small way. So I concentrated instead on just making a front-on elephant head, surrounded by colour.

I started by making a sort of blueberry outline. The blueberries were in many different sizes, which was both helpful and not so much. Helpful when I wanted to fill in weird gaps or create some dimension; less so when I wanted a bit of symmetry.

For the eyes, I picked out the two smallest blackberries, then mounded blueberries slightly around them to inset the eyes a bit. I then continued on down the elephant's trunk, adding some eccentric slices of apple for tusks. When I was happy with the general shape of the elephant, I began surrounding it with other fruits.

I used sliced apricots around the top of the head, slices of kiwi and bits of apple around the bottom part, and a few sliced strawberries in between.

To finish the elephant, I gave it a bit of dimension by building up parts of the trunk and ears. Blueberries nest quite well on top of one another, so this was one of the easier parts of this activity.

It's not the work of art I thought I'd be creating, but I like it well enough. If I were to do something like this for a party, I'd use a large platter instead of an oversized cookie sheet, and I'd probably use something like wild blueberries because they're smaller.

However, as my first-ever attempt at a picture made of fruit, this made me pretty happy. And, because I'm rather lazy when it comes to preparing fruit for myself, it also provided an excellent little fruit banquet when I was done.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Every March 13 since 1998, National Elephant Day has been celebrated in Thailand. As part of the celebrations in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai province, more than 100 elephants gather at the region's Maesa camp, where a feast of fresh fruit has been laid out for them. The yearly satoke—mimicking the traditional northern Thai kantoke style of dining—features pineapples, bunches of bananas, watermelons cut in two, and long sticks of sugarcane.

National Elephant Day banquet at Maesa Camp, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2012.
Photo: © AP

At Maesa, the elephants live with their mahouts. The camp is home to one of the largest herds of elephants in northern Thailand, and is actively involved in both conserving and breeding the animals, to help reduce their dwindling numbers. At the beginning of the twentieth century, for example, there were some 100,000 elephants in Thailand. There are now only 3,000 to 4,000 left in the entire country, a mere half of which are wild.

Although Maesa's elephants go through six tonnes of grass, bananas and sugarcane each day, the yearly Elephant Day feast is a special acknowledgement of the elephant's important place in Thailand's national consciousness.

Elephants chowing down at Maesa camp on National Elephant Day, 2012.
Photo: © EPA

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

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