“Inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s iconic drawing ‘Rhinoceros’,1515 , ‘Rhino 2014’ by artist Jane Lee McCracken symbolises man’s curiosity and relationship with the natural world, from Dürer’s epochal representation, to the state of our environment to date. Within 500 years of Dürer’s creative legacy, rhinoceros species teeter on the brink of extinction alongside tigers, pangolin, sharks and other keystone species. Lions, elephants and manta ray have also reached threatened status. Where once rhinoceros roamed in vast numbers, treading a 50 million year old evolutionary path, from the 1600s onwards, rhino numbers have plummeted by 90%. Hunting, habitat loss and poaching for their horns to use in traditional Chinese medicine, factor amongst the reasons for their more recent and rapid decline. From a 16th century artist who executed man’s inquisitive propensity to study species never seen before in the west, Jane’s drawing underlines our vast 21st century intellect of wildlife and the threats that face life on earth. Ultimately this piece accentuates the cynosural qualities of the depicted species and the spirit of Emmy Award winning underwater cameraman, Mark Thorpe’s enlightening quote, “extinction in an age of awareness is simply inexcusable”.
Paying homage to the BBC documentary series ‘Africa’, 2013, Jane uses this as the pivotal inspiration for her Biro drawing as the majority of species represented in this artwork are from the African continent. A monumental wildlife series, presented by David Attenborough ‘Africa’ reveals the breathtaking beauty and fragility of Africa and the species inhabiting its lands. Jane photographed 1000’s of images of ‘Africa’ as it played onscreen to give a sense of cinematic transience to her drawing. There is also an evanescent quality to the piece, symbolising that species are disappearing at a rate beyond that of their natural cycle. By portraying specific animals that feature in ‘Africa’, she presents the individualism of each animal, both aesthetically and characteristically; thus emphasising the fact that each animal is unique and precious to the survival of its species. Selecting some of the most poignant scenes from the documentary, including perhaps the most touching of all, the death from drought enforced starvation of an elephant calf and the “little chat” between David Attenborough and a blind rhino calf, Jane confronts the threats these species face both naturally and at the hands of man.”
“Like it or not this generation is responsible for handing on the world’s wildlife to the next. No one knows what the future holds for this little creature [blind rhino calf], nor indeed what changes will take place on the great continent in which he lives … but one thing is certain, what happens here is more important than it has ever been and that the relationship of the rest of the world to this great continent and the creatures that live in it is more important than ever before. On whichever part of the planet we live we all have a part to play in what sort of future this wild continent has.” David Attenborough, ‘Africa’ epilogue.
Elephant Calf (Rhino back) – depicting one of the most moving sequences from ‘Africa’ this detail portrays the moment a starving elephant calf, too weak to hold up its head, collapses into the drought-ridden grass. This drawing symbolises that elephants endure natural adversities as well as poaching for their tusks.
Mother Elephant – layered above the dying calf is a drawing of its mother weeping over the death of her calf. Having stood vigil and tried to revive the calf, she accepts its death. Elephants are the only known species apart from humans to practice ritual behaviour when confronting death, including grief and have been known to show the same emotions when encountering human death.
Dead Elephant Calf and Mother Elephant – a tiny drawing through the centre of the piece shows the body of the dead calf lying in the dust and the moment the mother elephant senses she has to leave her calf and return to the herd. Left behind to tend to her sick calf, the herd has continued its quest to find water and avoid further death. As she turns and walks away on her journey a faded image of another adult elephant beyond her indicates that she eventually returns to the herd.
Adult Elephant – layered through the dying calf is an image of a triumphant adult elephant drinking from a water hole, celebrating the monumental greatness of the largest land mammal on earth, surrounded by the slight stature of gazelle and zebra.
Starlit Rhino – the main face and body of ‘Rhino 2014’ is inspired from a sequence in ‘Africa’ capturing newly uncovered rhino behaviour. Deemed unsociable, film evidence reveals that rhinos actually gather to socialise at a secret watering hole under the stars.
Blind Rhino Calf (drawing on main Rhino face) – one of the stars of ‘Africa’, a blind rhino calf’s every move is guided by rangers. This drawing symbolises that each individual animal including this calf is precious and holds a key to the future security of its species.
Prehistoric Rhino Etching (drawing on main Rhino face) – prehistoric rock engraving of a rhino found in the Sahara becomes a layered drawing as if tattooed on the rhino’s skin and plays as a reminder as to how long rhinos have existed on earth.
Young Lion – portrait of a noble young lion suggests the majesty of ‘the king of the jungle’, but its eyes betray a reflective demeanour expressing that hunting and habitat loss have seen wild lion numbers plummet from 200,000 a century ago to fewer than 30, 000. The lion gazes up towards an uncertain future.
Lion Cub (under main lion) – portrait of a bright eyed lion cub personifies hope for the future of its species.
Dancing Manta Rays (throughout artwork) – inspired by a film entitled ‘Dancing Manta Rays’ by Mark Thorpe, drawings of manta rays appear throughout this piece and include a group of dancing manta rays layered through the central elephant’s ear. Hunted for their gill rakers to use in Chinese medicine the future of manta rays remains uncertain.
Pangolin (front leg of rhino) – the armoured body of a pangolin clings on to the walking rhino’s leg, suggesting the precarious status of pangolin species, racing towards extinction, caught for food and used in Chinese medicine. Tens of thousands of pangolin are traded every year.
South China Tigers, Mother, cubs & Male (back & front Rhino legs) – when Jane began drawing ‘Rhino 2014’ in early summer the official number of wild tigers was less than 3500. By August the official number emerged as less than 3000 wild tigers. There are more tigers in captivity than in the wild. The small tiger cubs represent the future of tigers padding towards extinction, but ‘hope’ that it is possible not only to save wild tigers but all the species depicted in ‘Rhino 2014’.
Great White Sharks (layered through rhino body) – illustrates the grace of an enigmatic animal that has inhabited the earth for 500 million years. Sunlight flickering through the water, dances on the shark’s body, encouraging appreciation of the beauty and necessity of sharks in a bid to dispel their negative populist image. Shark finning for shark fin soup is rapidly depleting shark species populations; eleven species are endangered.”
Rhino 2014 will be used to raise funds for the inspirational Chengeta Wildlife working on the frontline to deter the trade of illegal wildlife products, protecting rhinos and elephants.
For further information about Mark Thorpe’s stellar film-making please visit Sea Wild Earth