Javier Arce

Seeing the elephant.

"No greater marvelous know I than the mind´s natural jungle.""
Robert Duncan.


Nobody ever saw the elephant, but many claim to have seen. Never any man (cowboy, trapper, tramp or outlaw) provided any proof of their existence, but claimed that the elephant was there.


The phrase seeing the elephant is an Americanism which refers to gaining experience of the world at a significant cost. It was a popular expression of the mid to late 19th century throughout the United States in the Mexican-American War, the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, the American Civil War, the 1849 Gold Rush, and the Westward Expansion Trails (Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail).


During the 20th century the phrase faded from popularity but when historians started taking note of its recurrence in historical newspapers, journals, and literature they often summed the elephant up too quickly and categorized it as a negative experience. Desolation and sadness may have been one trait of "seeing the elephant", but it was certainly not the only or even the most prevalent. More often, American pioneers of the Overland Trails talk of the excitement and anticipation of heading west to see the elephant. Elephant "sightings" often begin with excitement and high ideals only to be disappointing or disenchanting. The high excitement followed by the low frustrations are what epitomize the elephant as something most wanted to "see" but few would have wanted to "see" again.


“Seeing the elephant” is the title of the project what I would like to do during the months January to March 2016 at The Luminary Residency Program. The project includes a series of drawings and sculptures, which will be exhibited at the new satellite gallery of Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco.The works of this project intended to be a hidden bestiary of America: cowboys and outlaws like Nat Love or Isom Dart (both black and therefore doomed to a life of constant danger) share fire with motorized black bands members, as the Dragons of Oakland East Bay or the struggle for freedom of Huey P. Newton and the Black Panthers, they made known its history and the emergence of the myth, but also showing the "other story" of the United States. We have become victims of time, we look at the past with sorrow and complaint. It is too late to change, we thought. Nope. As individuals, as men, it is never too late to change. And that is exactly what these precursors stubborn claimed all their life.


The term "see the elephant" was heard in countless times during half a century of violent history in the days of emigration to California and the lifting of all the cities of the West Coast. Over time the phrase ended up having their own pace and achieve a more coherent sense, "see the elephant" was to say "see what you wanted to see."


The "Serie Estrujados" reflects upon the significance of the great works of art (The Meninas, Guernica, Anatomy lesson ...) which are artistic icons. These images have been reproduced in such great number that they have become "dispensable" objects. Following this line of thought, I Have redrawn them on indestructible paper, crumpled them up only to recover them later. In this sense, it is interesting to point out the way in which the drawing is resolved, painted with felt-tip pen on crumpled up paper, with the aesthetics of a photocopy. Its aim is to run away, to disassociate art from any confusion with the decorative. Evidently, it ironically imitates one of the strategies of the vanguard, which consists of avoiding the craft-man-ship, the virtuosity, good materials and the perfect finish to distance itself from publicity, design, decoration and fashion, which paradoxically sum up the refinements that great Art abandoned.



Llerana de Saro, August 2016.
Javier arce.