In February 2013 Gabriel Rolt presented White’s Song of the Roustabouts, an exhibition of sculptural works including the eponymous large-scale installation made from over 1,000 kilos of wet clay suspended by a strange system of ropes, pulleys and wooden poles. The work, which the artist constructed on-site in the large open space of the gallery, recalls a haunting encounter White had more than a decade ago.

While traveling in East Africa, he stumbled upon the remains of an elephant, which had been mostly scavenged. All that remained was a scattered assemblage of bones and the elephant’s vast deflated skin, draped and folded like a collapsed tent. “Here was a body become landscape, a body both present and absent in which the distinction between the inner and outer had evaporated in the heat and decay. It was a body you could walk through…” said the artist. “Of all those objects that I ever encountered, this is the one I wanted most to possess…”

Two years ago, while working in his studio with wet clay, he discovered that the way it folded and cracked could be made to mimic the thickness and texture of the decaying elephant’s skin. He began developing this process to create a series of works which have been displayed in London and Paris.

The form makes reference to various manmade structures, from the circus big top to the makeshift canopies used by hunters in the wild. The song of the title refers to a musical number in Disney’s 1941 version of Dumbo, in which a band of itinerant workers sing about raising and tearing town circus tents for a living.