British art magazine Elephant to disappear after publisher withdrew funding

The British art magazine Elephant will cease publication at the end of this month after its publisher Colart International Holdings Limited withdrew funding for the title, citing the ongoing economic crisis and a slowdown in global sales of art supplies.

Colart bought Elephant in May 2017 but will no longer fund the print and digital magazine. With no further funding available, the magazine is expected to close at the end of October unless a new owner is found.

“Colart is actively in talks with several parties regarding the takeover of the magazine,” says Karen Spinner, Colart’s Commercial Director.

“It’s an incredibly sad time for Elephant and a painful process for the entire team to endure,” says Spinner. “The magazine has been a true champion of new and underrepresented talent in the art world, thanks in large part to the efforts of our excellent editorial team. I sincerely hope that in due time we can find a new home for Elephant to flourish.”

The closure comes after years of turmoil for the magazine, which has changed hands several times and evolved into a series of commercial ventures with varying levels of success.

Colart is a major distributor of art supplies and materials. Based in London, the company employs more than 1,500 people in 16 countries and has subsidiaries and brands such as Liquitex and Winsor & Newton.

Elephant was founded in 2009 by Marc Valli, co-founder of art book and print shop Magma, which has stores in London’s Covent Garden and Clerkenwell as well as Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Valli acted as editor and publisher of the magazine and actively tried to position it as an insurgent and maverick title in British art publishing.

The magazine’s name itself refers to the fight against the apparent “elephant in the room” of contemporary art culture. Valli is now the director of Laurence King Publishing, which briefly took over Elephant in 2016 but sold a 75% stake to Colart in May 2017.

Elephant is not a specialist art magazine, but tries to look at our visual art landscape as a whole, avoiding labels such as contemporary art or commercial art,” Valli said. in a 2013 interview. “He examines, for example, the links between fine art photography and fashion photography, or how artists will collaborate with graphic designers.”

The first issue of ElephantThe print magazine of was released in December 2009. It was published by Frame Publishers, which also publishes Interiors magazine. Frameand included editorials on fashion, travel and graphic design.

But the pilot magazine also gave pride of place to special cases and unknown names in the world of contemporary art. Artists who had failed to capture mainstream and establishment attention would remain the focus of the magazine for the next decade.

In the early years, Elephant was run by a two-person team and operated from the basement of Magma’s Clerkenwell branch. This frame inspired the magazine’s DIY, gung-ho approach. With its playful and youthful approach to art criticism and its focus on new, young and emerging artists, the magazine attempted to pierce the elitism of the art world. He aimed for a fun, energetic and often frivolous tone. The millennial demographic was the magazine’s stated target audience.

Elephant was also a leader in the digital sphere for artistic editorial. She founded her digital platform in 2015, before many other print art publications adopted a digital-first policy. The magazine’s website and social media became the driving force behind ElephantThe socially engaged and inclusive content of , which regularly dissected issues of race, class and gender.

The magazine became a broadsheet biannual publication, with a relaunch in 2021 featuring a design by graphic designer Tom Joyes, who became the magazine’s art director. The magazine’s latest iteration, the Fall/Winter 2022 issue, was released in September 2022 and features artists Anthea Hamilton, Zadie Xa and Ming Smith on its many covers. The magazine promoted a message of a ‘hopeful future’.

But behind the scenes, the picture was less optimistic. ElephantThe founding principles and identity of hardly fit with the ambitions of Colart, a large international supplier of art materials which attempted to pivot the Elephant brand away from the notoriously difficult magazine industry and expand into other more profitable and corporate ventures.

As part of the investment driven by Colart, in November 2018 Elephant evolved into a physical space: a cavernous cafe, bar and gallery on the site of a former petrol station in White City, West London, titled Elephant West and designed by architects Liddicoat and Goldhill.

Elephant West was envisioned as a “hub for the West London arts community”, Colart said in promotional material at the time. The space eventually closed during lockdown. But with various management issues playing out in the background, it never reopened to the public after the pandemic soured. It now serves as the offices and packing center for Elephant Kiosk, an online retailer of art supplies.

Elephant Kiosk was one of two initiatives launched by Colart during the pandemic under the leadership of Spinner, who previously worked as an editor at Horse & Dog magazine, and was named business manager of Elephant Art in 2020.

In an attempt to diversify Elephant, the organization has also launched Elephant Academy, offering online art classes and workshops. Last year, Elephant also launched its own range of sustainably packaged paints.

A series of staff departures announced Elephant‘send. The magazine’s creative director, Robert Shore, left the company in 2020 but was never replaced. Editor-in-chief Emily Steer, who joined the company in 2015, initially as associate editor, resigned and left the magazine in September 2022. Colart announced Elephant‘s internal closure soon after.

The end of Elephant is the familiar story of a once-independent art magazine whose creativity and ambition were stifled by corporate thinking. His departure marks a new breach in a UK art publishing scene in which few standalone voices are able to thrive.

• Charlotte Jansen is a former editor-in-chief of Elephant magazine

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