South African pig paints awesome art

Pigcasso picks up his brush two or three times a week. His sitter, Joanne Lefson, prepares a canvas and pots of paint for him, but the pig does the rest on his own. With its muzzle it catches the brushes with an extra wide grip and swivels its head up, down, to the right and in an arc to the left. There are many breaks in between, during which Pigcasso snacks on apples, grinds, melons, and other delicacies as a reward.

Lefson selects colors, adjusts the canvas, and decides when an image is complete. But she has no influence on the creative process of Pigcasso, insists the friend of animals. To prove that no human hands are involved, she films the making of each piggy artwork, which Pigcasso signs with his muzzle at the end. Each purchaser will receive a copy of the video, a certificate of authenticity, and a photo of the wildlife artist along with the image.

Lefson is open about her role as artist Pigcasso’s human partner: “It’s a collaboration between humans and non-humans.” Lefson’s name is therefore next to Pigcasso’s signature. Lefson describes the work done by the sow, which rescued a month-old piglet from a slaughterhouse, as a “unique gift”. Pigcasso actually had to be fattened for six months and then slaughtered. But she was lucky. Since 2016, the sow, which now weighs 500 kilos, has lived at the Lefson Sanctuary with other pigs, chickens, goats, cows and sheep.

Lefson, a staunch animal advocate, threw toys into little Pigcasso’s enclosure, knowing that pigs are “intelligent animals that enjoy entertainment.” But the sow destroyed all the balls, she was only interested in a few old brushes. “I thought maybe there was something,” says Lefson, who studied art and zoology. “I taught Pigcasso how to hold a paintbrush. But she developed her expressionist technique herself,” says Lefson.

Pigcasso’s painting was purely a hobby until a New York couple visiting the court expressed interest in purchasing one of the paintings. “It just took off from there,” says Lefson. Tourists from all over the world wanted to see the painter pig and buy his paintings. Pigcasso’s art is now world famous – and extremely expensive. A canvas is available from 1500 euros, an art print around 200 euros.

In December, the wildlife artist officially entered the Guinness Book of Records: a German art collector bought Pigcasso’s painting “Wild and Free” for 22,000 pounds sterling (nearly 26,000 euros) – the most expensive work by a non-human artist. In doing so, Pigcasso broke the existing record for the Congo chimpanzee, whose photo has already fetched £14,000.

Germans are usually Pigcasso’s best customers, Lefson says, followed by the Swiss, British and Americans. The pig has also released a limited edition wristwatch in collaboration with Swiss watchmaker Swatch. A book about Pigcasso’s life is to be published next year. British behavioral scientist Jane Goodall wrote the foreword. Starting in July, Pigcasso’s works will be exhibited for three months in Hannoversch-Münden, Lower Saxony – his first exhibition in Germany.

Pigcasso isn’t the only animal with artistic talent. In the United States, for example, DogVinci, a Labrador Golden Retriever mix, draws pictures for a good cause. In Thailand, paint elephants live at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center near the northern city of Chiang Mai. A black rhino named Msindhi once drew colors on paper at the Denver Zoo in Colorado. At Hakkeijima Sea Paradise Aquarium in Yokohama, Japan, a creative and painterly beluga has become world famous. From Austria, the female orangutan Nonja at Schönbrunn Zoo, who died in 2018 at an advanced age, was famous for her painting.

Animals are certainly innovative, confirms Allison Kaufman, animal researcher at the University of Connecticut in the United States. For example, they may invent a new way to search for food or new ways to impress a partner. In human care, an animal can learn to paint like any other behavior, explains the researcher. As long as it is voluntary, such training is good for animals because it stimulates them cognitively.

However, no one can say for sure whether an animal is self-aware or whether a painting is intentionally art, Kaufman points out. “Animals don’t really need emotional expression – at least as far as we know. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t like animal art,” says the researcher. She herself has a wall full of pictures of animals at home, which she loves more than anything.

For Lefson, Pigcasso’s talent is a means to an end. Proceeds from the artwork go back to the sanctuary, Lefson says, to fund the dignified retirement of dozens of farm animals that were originally meant to end up on our plates. “I am much more than Pigcasso fame. I want to show that pigs have value, that they deserve to be treated better,” says Lefson.


Mathew Baynton

"Bacon nerd. Extreme zombie scholar. Hipster-friendly alcohol fanatic. Subtly charming problem solver. Introvert."

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