Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2013


born 1958

oil on linen

198.0 x 233.5 cm

signed and dated verso on stretcher: Stephen Bush 1998

$35,000 - 45,000
Sold for $46,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 30 - 28 August 2013, Sydney

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles
The John L. Stewart Collection, New York


Overlander, Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles, 1999

Catalogue text

The elephant is an enigmatic character that appears many times in Stephen Bush's work. We encounter him throughout the 1990s in the form of people cloaked in drooping elephant suits, plodding around absurdly in a lush alpine setting as in Type Cast, 1998, A Painting for the South Wing, 1995, and When I was Here I Wanted to be There, 1995. The elephants in these works serve as powerful symbols of the loss and displacement experienced by people and cultures post-colonisation. More than this, the awkward elephants make us feel as if these images are just a little too stilted, too sublime to be sincere. These paintings present 'chaps standing in front of the diorama of an alpine scene - all linked together but looking very rigid and artificial - is how I see the history of art!'1 

Around the same time the elephant reappeared in Bush's renowned series The Lure of Paris, this time in the shape of children's book character Babar, clad in a green three-piece suit. In the original 1931 French text by Jean de Brunhoff, Babar flees the jungle after the death of his mother to find a new way of life in a large, unnamed city, after which he returns to the jungle to 'civilise' his fellow elephants, dressing them all in suits. Bush depicts multiple stuffed Babar dolls traversing craggy mountain tops and stormy seas, an intrepid explorer. He has painted Babar more than thirty times since 1992, obsessively reworking the same image, trying to get at some indecipherable truth, but perhaps getting further and further away from it with each rendition.

The elephant has persisted as a colonising agent in Bush's work, but above all as a reminder of the way in which the history of art and culture has been manipulated and contrived through the channels of painting, photography, and journalism.

1. Stephen Bush, from Barbour, J. (ed.), 'Interview with Stephen Bush by Peter Cripps', 1987