An Artis­tic Cham­pion for Wildlife

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text: Paula Ra­bel­ing Im­ages © Bruce Lit­tle

Merg­ing and forg­ing two pas­sions to­gether to form sculp­tures that have cap­tured the at­ten­tion of the world of art as well as the world of con­ser­va­tion, Bruce Lit­tle has a mis­sion: To in­form ev­ery­one that they can have an im­pact when it comes to sav­ing the planet and the ma­jes­tic wildlife that call it home.

South African artist, Lit­tle, has a passion for wildlife that be­gan at an early age, which prompted him to take the sa­fari road and be­come a game ranger when he reached adult­hood. How­ever, as much as he loved be­ing in the wilder­ness and in such close prox­im­ity to wildlife, Lit­tle felt that there was some­thing more he could do. It was then, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from his sur­round­ings and beloved African an­i­mals, that he be­gan his sculpt­ing jour­ney.

With no for­mal train­ing, he be­gan to cre­ate sculp­tures of an­i­mals. Al­ready an avid pho­tog­ra­pher, he had some ex­pe­ri­ence in at­tempt­ing to cap­ture the spir­its of the an­i­mals he came into con­tact with.

“Just by be­ing with the an­i­mals, study­ing them through the medium of photography, and then as one starts to sculpt, one does not just look at the an­i­mal – one looks at how they move, how their mus­cles re­act.”

De­pict­ing the cor­rect anatomy of the an­i­mals he sculpts is im­por­tant to Lit­tle. “I study the anatomy quite a lot. I have been very for­tu­nate in hav­ing handraised some an­i­mals – two chee­tah, which were re­leased back into the bush, and a cara­cal.” Rais­ing th­ese an­i­mals, and even hunt­ing with them, he sees this as a “huge

priv­i­lege”, as he says, that an­i­mals are his “ab­so­lute passion”.

One of the most im­por­tant mes­sages that Lit­tle wishes to re­late to peo­ple through his cre­ations is that we all have a part to play when it comes to look­ing af­ter the en­vi­ron­ment. “One of the things that I try to con­vey – and which I do a lot of talk­ing about – is that we can all make a dif­fer­ence. Ev­ery­body thinks that con­ser­va­tion is some­one else’s prob­lem – it is not some­one else’s prob­lem. Ev­ery sin­gle one of us can make a dif­fer­ence. At the end of the day … you can­not take any­thing with you. What legacy do you want to leave be­hind? And I think that the legacy I would like to leave be­hind is of some­body who made a dif­fer­ence, a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence, through the medium of art.”

The con­ser­va­tion legacy of Lit­tle is al­ready on an as­ton­ish­ing path. In 2016, he cre­ated a gar­gan­tuan African lion ti­tled Dawn Pa­trol. This lion came into be­ing af­ter Lit­tle joined forces with Vis­count of Wey­mouth of the United King­dom. “We talked about the con­cept of do­ing a big sculp­ture for Longleat – a prop­erty in Wilt­shire in the United King­dom, which is known as a sa­fari park, but there is also a mag­nif­i­cent build­ing on it – and the fol­low­ing year they were cel­e­brat­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the sa­fari park. They thought that some­thing of a monumental scale would be a good thing.”

And monumental the sculp­ture cer­tainly is. Mea­sur­ing in at over eight me­tres long and over four me­tres high, Dawn Pa­trol is the largest sculp­ture Lit­tle has cre­ated. “I wanted it to be big­ger than the Trafal­gar Square lions, be­cause I wanted it to be a state­ment, not only for wildlife, but also a state­ment for me as an artist.”

Af­ter the re­sound­ing suc­cess of the project, Lit­tle was in­vited to auc­tion off Dawn Pa­trol at the Leonardo Dicaprio Foun­da­tion auc­tion in St Tropez, France. More than R14 mil­lion was raised for the foun­da­tion, thanks to Lit­tle’s Dawn Pa­trol, which sup­ports con­ser­va­tion ef­forts around the world. Lit­tle re­quested that some of the funds go to a char­ity of his choice, which was Botswana Preda­tor Con­ser­va­tion Trust. So, the im­pres­sive bronze trib­ute to the most fa­mous preda­tor in Africa as­sisted in sav­ing the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind it, as well as so much more nat­u­ral beauty.

The process of cre­at­ing his bronze cre­ations is no easy feat. Lit­tle be­gins by pho­tograph­ing and study­ing an an­i­mal be­fore get­ting into the ac­tual sculpt­ing. An ar­ma­ture is cre­ated, which gets fleshed out with foam or wood. A waxbased clay is then added and moulded be­fore it goes to the foundry where it gets cast into bronze. Lit­tle spent eight months on Dawn Pa­trol, hav­ing to drop ev­ery­thing to cre­ate this renowned, im­pos­ing work of art.

When it comes to his favourite pieces, Lit­tle de­scribes the ques­tion as “the most dif­fi­cult to an­swer”. “I do be­lieve that ev­ery piece that I do, I give it my all – they are all spe­cial to me be­cause I have done each one for a rea­son.” The pieces that have stuck with the artist in­cludes a smaller ver­sion of a pre­vi­ous sculp­ture of a large-scale leop­ard called Down To Earth. “I have got a se­ries of sun­birds, and they are very fine – they are not all about power and teeth and fur, it is also about the fi­nesse. Il­lu­sions of Grandeur de­pict­ing a meerkat stand­ing on a lion skull, which is known as the king of the beasts, also sticks out for me be­cause it just sums up their [meerkats’] char­ac­ters.”

Lit­tle left his ca­reer as a game ranger years ago to ded­i­cate his time to his art. “I work seven days a week – but I do not see it as work. I have got two stu­dios – one at my work­place and the other at home – so

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