Art for art’s sake : Lampang


Probably the primary discipline (you could arguably throw in gymnastics as well) for which my levels of proficiency stop at around the “totally clueless” stage.

To be fair, through years of pointless practice I’ve taught myself to doodle a passable “99” ice-cream and can also sketch what can just be made out to be a cube-like object.  Though beyond this pair of boredom-indicating aces I keep up my sleeve, masters such as Da Vinci and Van Gogh (or even Rolf Harris for that matter) have little to fear.

roadside vendor, Lampang, Thailand

A cart load of meat treats offered by a roadside vendor, Lampang, Thailand

At school, though my form tutor was the art teacher, I created little work of merit.

My straight lines were usually not without kinks and curvature, whilst my paint always slopped outside of the areas for which it was intended.

Even the clay mouse that I attentively sculpted and baked in the school kiln looked very much like a bloated rat with the eyes of a fish by the time I took it home to my parents.

It was clear by the age of 12 that St Martins College would not be throwing their doors open and laying out the welcome mat for me at any time soon.

A boy gathering bottles on wasteland, Lampang

A boy gathers empty bottles from wasteland, Lampang

With a laptop and mouse becoming the new pen and paper, I truly thought my traumas with art were left behind in the classroom many moons ago.

How wrong I was.

Today, on a hillside in Central Thailand, I hit a new low.

Today was the day on which I realised my aptitude for art and painting is greatly exceeded by that of an elephant.

I am aware that science suggests that elephants, along with chimpanzees and dolphins, are among the world’s most cognitively advanced animals and as such might well have a louche attitude towards work and a preference for the creative disciplines.

What I’m not happy about though is the fact that despite allowing for an overflow of creative juices, elephants have no hands.

When it comes to mastery of a paintbrush, this single fact suggests that my opposable thumbs should give me a clear evolutionary advantage over all species of elephantidae during any form of art-off.

An elephant painting a portrait, the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, Lampang

An elephant painting a portrait, the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, Lampang

Large, heavy-footed beasts generally lack dexterity.

Ergo, this should be a no contest, right?


As I quickly discovered at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC), near Lampang, a trunk is most valuable piece of appendage when it comes to the execution of a brush stroke.

As well as demonstrating their ability to move large loads (as they were traditionally used for over centuries of logging and clearance work), the elephants of the TECC have also been trained by their mahouts to undertake less taxing tasks such as playing a xylophone symphony, rhythmically beating a drum, and most impressive of all, painting watercolours.

"Flowers".  A finished piece of elephant art.  Lampang, Chiang Mai

"Flowers". A finished piece of elephant art.

Knocking up a completed work in a cool 10-15 minutes, the animals are about as prolific as Pablo Picasso but far less political.

Unlike Picasso whose works have sold for as much as US $106.5 million, we were able to secure an original piece for “The Boy’s” nursery (when he finally gets one) for around about the £15 mark.

Hell, if our elephant artist one day goes on to produce a “Guernica”, then who knows, perhaps we’ll be sitting on a gold mine?

The TECC was a great day out for the family, not only enjoying as we did the light-hearted show, but from feeding the mighty beasts, watching the elephants bathe, being invited to work the process whereby elephant dung is turned into paper, understanding the great work of the sanctuary and its attached elephant hospital, and most memorably, watching “The Boy” light up when we took him for his first elephant ride.

Thai elephant Conservation Centre

"The Boy" befriends a young elephant at the Thai elephant Conservation Centre

He’s rapidly developing a love for animals that is a joy to behold.

I can only hope he similarly develops a talent for art that will one day see him exhibit alongside his Granny and Grandad who are both creating sound reputations and a broad clientelle for their works.

If he does, then you can rest assured that he has his mother to thank and can be certain that he didn’t inherit the art gene from me.


About misterkelvin

I searched, I failed. And then I accidentally found one in Ubud.
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