Speaking Passionately on Behalf of Those who Cannot Speak
Jeb is a zookeeper.  He loves his job!

A true collaboration...

The Rama Exhibition paintings were sparked by an intricate three-way collaboration between Calley, Rama the elephant and Jeb, a keeper, a collaboration like never before. 

 The question most often asked is, how did Rama begin painting?

 Rama began painting as a form of enrichment for emotional, mental and physical stimulation, leading to his illustrious ten yearlong career as Oregon’s biggest artist. 

The truth is, RAMA was among the world’s finest abstract expressionist painters.

Rama began painting as a form of enrichment, leading to his career as Oregon’s ‘biggest’ artist. Highly intelligent, Rama quickly learned how to paint with trunk. Rama liked the breathing exercise and began following keepers around, blowing air out his trunk. One keeper, Jeb Barsh began to contemplate that behavior and after careful thought, introduced non-toxic children’s paints into the tip of his trunk.

Rama then blasted the paint onto the canvas. Afterward, he washed his own trunk. Once Rama had mastered spray painting, it was time for Rama to start brush painting. Brushing exercised his strong trunk muscles and gave him creative freedom. Enthusiastically, his ears would come out and he shook his head happily. 

At any time, Rama could have chosen not to paint. He freely chose to participate at every opportunity. Rama is truly an amazing elephant, changing lives as he amazes children of all ages.

PROCESS:  First, Calley stapled heavy raw canvas onto a sheet of marine plywood sturdy enough for Rama’s impact. She primed the canvas several times to stretch and seal it. Next, she designed the color palette, and mixed a bucket of non-toxic water based paints in plastic syringes for Rama’s spray painting, and acrylics for brushwork.

Once the room was set up and Rama bathed, Jeb asked Rama for his trunk and offered him the paint. Rama would take a breath, blasting the paint onto the canvas, layer by layer, and washing his trunk between contrasting colors. 

Often Rama brushed on top of his spray work with acrylics. He would reach out with his trunk so Jeb could place a full brush in his beak. When Jeb signaled Rama to move his head, “Shake it up, Rama!” and Rama stroked and swung the brush, his ears flared out as he shook his head, showing his excitement. After each stroke, he gave the brush back to Jeb. 

 An International Traveling Exhibition of Endangered Species 
Dedicated to the Children of the World by Calley O'Neill with Rama the Elephant 
Once dry, Calley sealed the glaze paintings several times, back and front. Back in the studio the labor-intensive work began. The canvas was re-stretched using the same staple holes. After research, and a reference search, the photographer’s permission was granted; Calley draws each animal freehand, tracing only the outline onto Rama’s work. The area inside the outlines was sanded and primed in preparation for the drawing transfer, and glaze painting with dozens of layers of translucent Politec. When complete, the works are sealed five times and finished with a final border, hanging rods and tassels.

As Rama painted the wild backgrounds and Calley continues to paint, adding the grace of the animals ~ chaos, power, and love speak in equal measure.