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Balloon art for a cause coming to downtown Guelph next week

Local artist will take four days to construct a 4.5-metre long rhino out of balloons to raise awareness for the animal's survival

Art of a different kind with a strong social message will be created next week at Old Quebec Street Shoppes in downtown Guelph.

Guelph resident Sean Rooney is a balloon artist. No, not someone who dresses up in a clown costume and makes balloon play swords and poodles at kids' parties, but a real artist.

Starting Monday, Aug. 15, Rooney will be at Old Quebec Street Shoppes spending four days creating a 4.5-metre long, 2.5-metre high rhinoceros.

He said it will take him roughly 30 to 35 hours to complete and will involve between 3,000 and 4,000 balloons.

"I'll be working pretty hard," said Rooney with a laugh. "We're going pretty large on this one."

The message behind the creation is to create awareness about the issue of rhinoceros poaching in Africa, where the animals are routinely killed for their tusks.

The balloon rhino project (www.theballoonrhinoproject.co.za/)is happening raise awareness and funds around the world for the cause.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of people around the world making breathtaking sculptures around the world for a great cause," said Rooney, who has been doing balloon art for 30 years.

Art, he said, is for everyone. So is the message about saving rhinos.

Rooney said he is fairly well-known in the "balloon world" so he wanted to become involved in a project started with some of his protégés and peers.

"They reached out to me and I thought 'this is a great idea.' Conceptually, balloon sculpture of an animal lends itself to a discussion about extinction because of the ephemeral nature of the balloons themselves," he said.

"There's also something about the larger social consciousness of balloon artists and the rising quality of balloon artists. When I started there were less than 10 in the world who could actually be called 'artists.' Now there's hundreds and hundreds around the world that can make breathtaking sculptures with balloons."

Rooney has done huge projects before, including a 20-metre dinosaur at the Royal Ontario Museum.

He admits he has never actually seen a rhino and plans on creating more of a mythological rather than cartoonish rendition next week.

Rooney's muse for his balloon rhino is the engraving by German renaissance painter Albrecht Durer, another artist who had never seen an actual rhino.

"It's an anti-poaching initiative that's worldwide ... the whole point is that Albrecht Durer never got to see a rhino, I've never got to see a rhino, but let's not make that the case for everybody."

More information on Rooney's work can be found on his web site www.balloonmaestro.com.