OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Just the sight of these huge animals is enough to draw a crowd at the OKC Zoo. Elephants Asha and baby Malee really are a feast for the eyes. But today both audience and pachyderm get a special treat. Their handlers call it enrichment, something different to spice up an Asian Elephant’s summer morning. We would call it painting.
Asha is the real artist here. She’s trained to hold a paint brush in her trunk. She uses non-toxic paint. Handlers hold the canvas and choose the colors. She paints the picture. Asha is also capable of another style of painting. She can suck up a small amount of paint with her trunk and spray it just like from a can.
Elephants aren’t the only aspiring animal artists here. Another painter, a Red River Hog named Sir David Pigglesworth III can also handle a brush in his snout. Again, his handlers hold the canvas and, in return for treats, he moves a paint brush. “He just likes the interaction with his handlers,” says a zoo employee helping Sir David hold his brush. “It gives him something different to do.”
Zoo administrators always keep any animal paintings that might come their way. They have abstract paintings by an anaconda snake, an ostrich, a cockatoo, and even a darter fish that squirts water.
Artist and gallery worker Anna Lisa Campbell spent hours hanging dozens of original animal paintings at the In Your Eye Gallery in the Paseo Arts District. The gallery hosts an annual show called Art Gone Wild. Even to a trained eye, Campbell says some of the paintings show promise. She playfully points out, “A lot of the animals and their trainers chose Thunder colors.”
The art that sells goes back to Zoo conservation efforts. The artists don’t get a commission unless you count edible treats. They don’t get any start treatment either, but they deliver every year. And this modern art is the wildest yet.
The In Your Eye Gallery starts the Art Gone Wild show each year with a reception and party. You can’t meet the artists there but you can purchase their work. Most of it is less than $100.00. Official opening night for the show is Friday, August 3. The show runs through September 2.