In becoming obsessed with elephants, Connecticut artist Roxanne Faber Savage finds herself in the company of celebrities fighting for the survival of elephants in Africa and Asia, which continue to be hunted and killed for their ivory tusks.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Sarandon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tommy Hilfiger, Diane von Furstenberg, Prince William and Kate Middleton—they’re all members of the celebrity brigade pursuing what one source in a New York Times story on the phenomenon labeled “the sexy cause of the moment.”
Trendiness of the cause wasn’t what attracted the attention of Faber Savage, the Fairfield County, Conn., artist whose prints often employ images of ordinary things—birds, houses, power lines, swimmers—to tap into the emotive qualities of essences that jostle like tightly-packed atoms within the subconscious.
For Faber Savage, the genesis of a new and powerful body of work began with a lie in visual form—the now ubiquitous photo on Facebook of the elephant with tusks dyed pink to render them valueless to poachers.
“This photograph is my muse. It is responsible for my newly found interest in elephants, ivory and the color pink,” says the artist of the photo that was debunked as a fraud; no one is dying tusks pink to save elephants.
Nonetheless, seeing that image launched the artist on a quest, first to learn about elephants and their plight, and then to create often playful, and sometimes darker, works that find equilibrium between a tragic global story and the artist’s embrace of child-like imperfection, kitsch, and an overarching informality.
These works will be exhibited November 6 through January 2 in a show entitled roxyshow/Elephant at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y. An opening reception will be held November 12, from 5 to 8 p.m.
While Faber Savage focuses thematically on illegal tusk poaching, the subject matter extends to elephant related ephemera, the fun and funny absurdity of circus elephants like “Dumbo,” watering cans shaped like elephants, and the proverbial “elephant in the room. ”
There are no Republican political elephants in the show, nor does the artist explore the realm of symbolism home to Ganesha, the Hindu elephant deity that rides a mouse and represents attributes including success and wisdom.
“But I do have the elephant in the room, which is the tusk,” says the artist, whose references to the iconic tusk include soft sculptures in the shape of tusks. Works in the exhibit also include silkscreen prints on muslin, paper, and cardboard, along with readymade images on metal, collages and plaster mixed media relief forms.
The artist’s range of media inherently reflects the duality embodied by elephants—great nobility counterbalanced by a comical presence—and also reflects the ethos of Faber Savage’s process.
Imperfection is like my perfection,” says the artist, who references the Picasso quote about it taking “a lifetime to paint like a child,” and says, “When I work, I work like a child—completely abandoning my self into the thing, and using my learned skills and intuition in a childlike way.”
The artist, who has a studio in the AmFab building in Bridgeport, Conn., worked on the current project for approximately two years and created much of the artwork during an artist residency at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass.
The process started with Faber Savage writing thoughts and questions about elephants in her journal. That transitioned into research that took her to see, touch and photograph elephant tusks in the off-site collections of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and to the Oregon Zoo in Portland to visit live elephants.
Along the way, Faber Savage learned that a village in her home state of Connecticut, Ivoryton, processed 90 percent of the ivory imported to the U.S. the late 1800s, creating billiard balls, combs, piano keys and more manifestations of elephant tusks as currency.
The agony of the elephants inspires some of the most powerful images in the exhibit, notably prints in black-and-white—and some with color—that represent the tears of elephants. The narrative lyricism within the abstraction in those works in particular is nothing short of masterful.
“A particular story struck me,” says Faber Savage. “An American hunter (late 1800’s) managed to follow and track down a 60- to 70-year-old bull elephant. The story describes this final scene where the hunter shoots this massive beast, and the elephant looks directly at the hunter, slumps into a nearby tree, accepting his fate, and tears begin streaming from his eyes.”