Sadness as elephant sculpture erected in Felpham is stolen

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The creator of an elephant sculpture erected in Felpham has spoken out after it was stolen earlier this month.

The tall, slender elephant took pride of place on the rife bridge, near Butlin’s, since September last year when it was first built.

It’s one of nearly 200 made and distributed by artist ‘Elephantman’ all over the world, but this one was particularly special since it bore a dedication to his sister Christine Easton.

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"There’s a little plaque underneath that says it’s for my sister Christine. She passed away in June 2023, and she was living with cancer when I built it,” Elephantman told Sussex World. “I put the elephant there for her.”

The elephant structure before it was stolen. Photo: Graeme McMurchieThe elephant structure before it was stolen. Photo: Graeme McMurchie
The elephant structure before it was stolen. Photo: Graeme McMurchie

The artist, who has been distributing his signature sculptures since 2015 in a bid to spread empathy and awareness, said he was “surprised” to learn that this particular statue had disappeared, even though they are quite often stolen. “I suppose I thought that, because of the plaque, people would think that it’s obviously meant to be there and treat it with a kind of reverence, I suppose.”

Although plenty of his elephants have been stolen over the years, he said that doing so is a kind of selfishness and that thieves take for themselves that which is meant for everyone. “Someone has obviously thought to themselves ‘I want that. And I want it just for me and no one else.’ It’s a very selfish decision.”

That selfishness, he said, is part of why Elephant is moving away from the elephant project and towards other, newer projects. “I had made these two elephants in Deptford, and they were beautiful. Very very pretty. But they only lasted two weeks before they were stolen.”

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Since many of the elephants where fixed in place by steel poles, he added, and since they are often heavy, the elephants are not easy to steal.

What remains of the sculpture. Photo:  Graeme McMurchieWhat remains of the sculpture. Photo:  Graeme McMurchie
What remains of the sculpture. Photo: Graeme McMurchie

"Gutted is exactly the word. I had this strong, gut feeling that I just did not want to do this anymore, did not want to keep putting these elephants out there only for them to be stolen.”

Happily, he’s since moved on to other projects, most notably one he’s called ‘Love Machine’ which he describes as a kind of “magical malware deprogrammer.” In it, users transfer all their ‘sadness, trauma and grief’ to particular objects which, after going through a specific ritual, they leave with the machine.

Elephantman describes it as a kind of magic, in which commitment to the ritual is itself enough to inspire a physical and mental change.

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"You see people coming out the other side with these beautified smiles on their faces. It really does do something.”

He sees the machine as an extension of the ideas first explored through the elephant statues. “All of this is part of an umbrella idea I call the empathy revolution, wherein we start to see that we are all connected, all part of this one great thing,. It’s where we start treating all living things as equal and stop living in fear.”