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written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

The beauty of Clive Meredith’s graphite drawings is probably the first thing that most of us notice. He has both a love of detail and a gorgeous technique – what a combination! We can feel the textures he creates: soft fur, crisp feathers, or in the case of this work, elephant skin. But Meredith’s spare style also reveals a command of shape and pattern that makes his work powerfully abstract.

To the River

To the River

Here, as in many of his drawings, the animals are cropped off to one side, leaving a great deal of negative space. I love this because of the tension it imparts. The space seems full of questions. Sometimes in wildlife drawings one gets the feeling that the subject alone is what matters to the artist. The background is just “there”, a nonentity. But that’s not the case with Meredith’s work. The white background is more than a background: it is an active player in his work. It’s as if the space is a visual symbol of something unknown – the elephants’ future, perhaps? But the artist does not give us the answer. Instead, we have to “fill in the blanks” ourselves.

The cropping on this particular image is more extreme than in many of Meredith’s drawings: we zero in on the elephants’ faces, minus most of their trunks. Cropping like this immediately highlights abstract shapes. The elephants become not only animals, but patterns of light and shadow. They form a solid mass of modulated grays, standing in opposition to the stark whiteness before them. I find it all quite somber, except for the little sparkle of white in the tusks, especially of the elephant on the left. This is a very important touch. It adds contrast, lightens the mood, and harmonizes the subjects with the background. The left elephant’s tusks also keep the grays from looking too flat. Cover them with your hand and you will see what a difference they make.

The simplicity of the large strong shapes is counterbalanced by the ridged, corrugated skin and dry branches. These details are beautiful, but they are more than that. Of course elephants always have wrinkled skin; but wrinkles still suggest age, something old and wise. Then there are the branches, so dry and delicate. By putting these two images together, Meredith expresses the concept of “gentle giant” – the massive and the fragile side by side.

We know that elephants, in spite of their size and strength, are endangered animals: they are large and powerful but they are also vulnerable. In this drawing, Meredith underlines both their plight and their majesty. A beautiful drawing that also makes you think – I think the artist has done his job!