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Artist Ralph Steadman used his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas desert as a backdrop for his Elmer's Big Heart of Kent Parade design


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You might not think Elmer the patchwork elephant and the iconic desert scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would go together.

But then you have not been inside the head of artist and creative genius Ralph Steadman.

Artist Ralph Steadman in his studio
Artist Ralph Steadman in his studio

The artist, who lives near Maidstone, created his Elly-do, Elly-don’t, Elly-dance! elephant design for the Elmer's Big Heart of Kent Parade in Maidstone this summer, which is in aid of the Aylesford-based Heart of Kent Hospice, with his infamous desert scene from the Hunter S Thompson novel as inspiration.

“It’s unexpected to suddenly find an elephant in your studio," he said. "It was awkward to carry and get a grip on because there are no smooth edges. I had this flight case on wheels that was in the studio from a previous exhibition, which was lucky because it was quite hard to work at it on the floor. It meant I could lift the sculpture up to table level and then wheel it around. It was the fattest thing I have ever decorated and although it took up a lot of space in the studio it was a nice addition.”

His daughter Sadie Williams utilised her experience as a set designer and scaled up his infamous desert scene, ensuring Ralph did not have an elephant-shaped blank canvas.

He said of his Elmer creation - which is currently on show in the Elmer HQ in Fremlin Walk before it goes up for auction: "It became like a scribble book, where you go in and have a play with it for a little while.

"It was fun adding a bit more here and there.

Ralph Steadman's Elmer creation at Elmer HQ
Ralph Steadman's Elmer creation at Elmer HQ

“It was difficult drawing on a curved surface because you can’t see it all in one take, you have to walk around it. When my artwork is just a picture, you have it all laid out. That’s why it was good to have it on wheels to swivel round.”

While playing around with the design, Mr Steadman drew several elephants that looked like they were dancing along in a line, and soon the sculpture had the rhythmic name Elly-do, Elly-don’t, Elly-dance!

Based on David McKee’s popular children’s character Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, it is one of 82 currently in and around the town for the trail, which runs until Sunday, August 22, and which is raising awareness and funds for the Aylesford hospice.

He said: “I would like to dedicate Elly-do, Elly-don’t, Elly-dance! to our dear friend, Fiona Walls, who spent her last few weeks at the hospice. She and her family were given the time, space and dignity to deal with her terminal diagnosis, her passing and facing a future without her. Fiona loved to spend time with her own children and adored a yard full of her friend’s kids. I think she would giggle if she knew that there was an Elmer sculpture dedicated to her.”

This weekend allows one last look at the parade, a collaboration with Wild in Art, Andersen Press and Westerhill Homes, in situ. There are three trails in all and they take visitors all over Maidstone, together totalling around six miles.

The trail has got people of all ages spotting Elmers Picture: Luka Whatling stops to hello to Elmer Picture: Sean Aidan
The trail has got people of all ages spotting Elmers Picture: Luka Whatling stops to hello to Elmer Picture: Sean Aidan

After this time, the sculptures, which have all been designed individually, will be brought together at Lockmeadow for Elmer’s Big Heart of Kent Parade Farewell Weekend from Friday, September 3 until Sunday, September 5. All 51 of the large Elmers and 31 small ones can be viewed.

Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Fay Gooch, said: “These amazing sculptures are so engaging, they have brought such colour and huge excitement to everyone who has followed the trail or come across them in the town."

After the farewell weekend they will be auctioned in support of the hospice on Thursday, September 9 - including Ralph's.

You can buy tickets to see them all together, funds from which will go to support the hospice, here.

To find out more about the trail and the app which includes challenges and statistics, go to elmermaidstone.co.uk

For more Days Out ideas across Kent click here.

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