Tristin Lowe's Elephant in the Room

The attendees of Made Fashion Week SS15 that have the pleasure of browsing through the Milk Gallery will notice a rather large elephant in the room…literally. A gargantuan pink construction made from vinyl and acrylic paint with an internal fan, it is one of the many brainchildren of artist Tristin Lowe. Lowe was asked by MADE, in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, to display this work to raise awareness on the dangers of ivory trafficking in an initiative to save the African elephants. Milk Made chatted with the artist as he installed the inflatable mammal about the significance of this piece and some of his other playfully ornate creations.

So tell us a little about this beauty.

Well it is of course being used here for the save the elephants initiative, but this piece was first inspired by the sequence from the Disney film, where Dumbo the elephant and his mouse friend get drunk on a bottle of whiskey that’s thrown at them from the clown bar. There’s that great psychedelic sequence while they’re drunk, and the sequence afterward of the old crows talking about it, not really caring about Dumbo strung up in a tree.

Well it’s very imposing being in the room with this guy, but I don’t mean that in a negative way.

That’s the idea (laughs). I like to use scale to illicit a response within the viewer, I think it’s one of the better ways to really evoke a strong reaction. The elephant is the third part of a trilogy that deals with various cycles, and the elephant itself is actually only a part of the piece, it’s accompanied by a pillow that’s infused with bourbon. The pillow has these sort of tree rings from the stain of bourbon, and the smell from it wafts out into this olfactory cloud that hits you when you walk towards it.

Are your other pieces just as interactive?

I would say so. I did one piece called ‘Puking Man’ that’s a figure that vomits real processed food all over himself. It’s activated by a button that the viewer presses, so that’s about as interactive as it gets. But kinetic things are iffy, I get done with all that noise.

How so?

Whenever you’re activating something, it’s a happening. I want things quieter, simpler, a stillness, that’s what I’m fascinated with. That idea sort of informed some of my earlier works, where I made a whale and a moon that were both made from felt. I had this huge roll of felt that I’d hung onto for a good 10 years and I had no idea what to do with it. But I kept thinking about stillness and I thought of the felt. It’s made through a hydrogen bonding process where the layers integrate into each other and it absorbs the sound around it.

From what I’ve seen, your work has very striking imagery. Is there anything in particular that would inform such iconographic images in your work?

The stuff of dreams I suppose. Collective unconscious. When viewers see my pieces I want it to slow them down. So there is some familiarity to it, but there also has to be a sense of awkwardness. It has to fall in that zone where you’re comfortable enough to play with it and associate with it, but it’s not too easy to put your finger on. It has to inspire curiosity, that sense of pulling back the curtain and going behind it. In a way, to make you feel like a kid again, to capture that feeling of anything being possible.

What inspires you? What do you do if you’re in a creative rut?

Space and stillness. The who we are, all those bigger questions, you know, all that stuff. When I’m stuck I just really try and stick to thinking about my pieces. I’ve found that they keep me moving forward in a trajectory; each piece keeps leading me into the next one.

Do you have any advice you want to share to any aspiring artists out there?

Just keep working. Do everything you possibly can, but make it easy for yourself. And follow your nose.

Image courtesy of Andrew Boyle

Special thanks to Fleisher Ollman Gallery for the use of the elephant

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