Zimbabwean artist David Filer is previewing his collection of elephant drawings at London’s Natural History Museum. Collectively known as The Makavuzi Herd series, the exhibit features six dramatic life-sized drawings of the namesake elephant, which will be showcased in the historic Hintze Hall for one night only.
Held to commemorate World Elephant Day, which falls on August 12, the exhibit is centered around one elephant in particular – Makavuzi, who lives in Zimbabwe’s Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation Park. Filer has spent a total of 15 working on this concept, with six years dedicated to creating the drawings themselves.
“[Makavuzi] has always been a national treasure; everyone knows and loves him and when deciding upon which elephant to draw as the life-sized male, there was no question,” Filer explains. “[He] is the perfect ambassador for all elephants; gentle and beautiful and from the day I started drawing him, he was immediately present in the studio with me. He came striding out of the paper faster than I could draw him and I will always claim that the drawing was a 50:50 collaboration with this extraordinary creature.”
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Born from his childhood obsession with nurturing animals in the wild, Filer’s art is firmly rooted in nature with creatures such as leopards, rhinos, giraffes and, most notably, elephants making up the bulk of his portfolio. Working almost exclusively in graphite pencil, his work is powerfully hyperrealist, with the artist going to painstaking lengths to capture every minute detail of his subjects in stark black and white.
“I’ve tried all the other mediums and while I loved working in them, I always returned to pencil,” he says. “There is a beauty in stripping something back of all color and reducing it to its basic black and white. I love the accuracy of the pencil too and getting that needlepoint sharpness of individual hairs and textures.”
Since launching his career as an artist, Filer has received much recognition for his work, including winning the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year competition in the Wildlife in Action category for his depiction of two zebras in fighting. Two years later, he was awarded the overall title of David Shepherd Artist of the Year 2011. Since then, Filer has been made a David Shepherd Foundation art ambassador in testament to his sensitive capturing of the natural world.
Of course, there are few places in London more fitting than the iconic Natural History Museum to host this captivating exhibition. “As [the project has] grown and taken on a life of its own, the Natural History Museum seemed the next logical step in exhibiting these pieces,” David says. “One of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in the world, it houses the skeletons and fossils of animals that have now become extinct, the poignancy of which I hope is not lost on the viewers.”
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Since first opening in 1881, the museum has been home to an ever-expanding permanent collection of natural specimens (including some collected by Charles Darwin himself), historical artifacts and interactive science installations, as well as a series of temporary displays. The Makavuzi Herd will be taking residence in the historic Hintze Hall, which is usually home to the museum’s vast blue whale skeleton, which suspends from the ceiling as a reminder to visitors of humanity’s responsibility to protect our planet.
In a similar vein, Filer is confident that witnessing the sheer size of an African bull elephant in drawing form will encourage people to want to join the fight to protect them. “My hope is to prompt a sense of wonder and awe within people while asking them to take a minute to look and realize how incredible these creatures are,” he says. “Hopefully that emotion will inspire people towards their own act of conservation and awareness.”
Following the exclusive one-night-only event, the series is set to head to another (currently undisclosed) exhibition, before eventually heading to auction. Although this is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it preview, Filer’s work is regularly exhibited around the world, including shows in Harare, the capital of his native Zimbabwe, and Johannesburg, as well as London and New York, and the artist is available for one-off commissions.