Visual Art and activism have always shared a very close relationship because of the ability of the visual medium to simplify and expose complex sociopolitical atrocities that often lie hidden beneath the surface of society. Like several other social issues, the use and treatment of animals has been covered in several creative ways by a number of talented artists/activists that are attracting mainstream attention and stirring up controversy. Here’s the first installment in our series featuring several news-making animal rights artivists.
1. Jonathon Horowitz
New York artist Jonathon Horowitz uses video, sculpture, sound and photography to examine cultural issues including politics, celebrity, war, and consumerism, often with humor and spectacle. His hugely popular 2002 exhibit Go Vegan depicted 200 celebrity vegetarians, a portrait gallery of animals near a stained butchers block, a video of animals being slaughtered and ended in a room with a block of tofu submerged in water in a square glass bowl, on a white pedestal in an empty white room. He re-staged this show in May 2010 in Gavin’s Brown Enterprise. His 2007 popcorn box sculpture People Like War Movies reminds us of the tragedy of deaths of both troops (Pat Tillman) and civilians (Vietnamese girl on fire with napalm), and the way that even in death, American culture creates gruesome celebrity.
2. Sue Coe
Sue Coe grew up near a slaughterhouse and it had a lasting affect on her. Today, this renowned author, artist and activist is famous for her unashamedly political and shocking images of abuse to both animals and humans. Over the years, her art has covered varied topics like factory farming, prisons, AIDS, racism, sweat shops, and most recently, war. Coe has illustrated a number of books including Sheep of Fools, Bully, and Dead Meat. Animal Rights as a theme has dominated her work over the years and the breath and quality of her art on this topic is unmatched. Her series of paintings covering several tragic stories of elephants, along with supporting text descriptions are some of the most heart-wrenching works of art you will find covering the callous mistreatment of living beings.
3. Gretchen Ryan
Los Angeles vegan artist Gretchen Ryan is a semi-photorealist painter who specializes in portraits of young beauty queens in tulle and satin, in ways that are sometimes sinister. Her May 2009 exhibition in New York’s Fred Torres gallery opened to rave reviews. Ryan is a vegan, supporter of animals rights and volunteers at Animal Acres.
4. Geoff Francis
Former record shop and vegetarian restaurant owner, Geoff Francis’ creative expression have taken various forms over the years. In the late 80s, he helped set up the Animaline Sanctuary in collaboration with Linda McCartney, Rita Tushingham and Carla Lane. After running Animaline for a few years, he decided to take up painting full-time. In 2004, the recreation of his work; Weapons of Mass Destruction at the Croydon Eco-Veggie Fare in 2009 achieved significant critical acclaim. In 2005 he donated the proceeds from more than 500 of his paintings to re-home elephants to a sanctuary in Thailand through his Art for Art’s Sake charity.
5. Gale Hart
Sacramento-based sculptor, painter, furniture-maker and multimedia artist, Gale Hart combines the grotesque with color and humor to explore issues related to animal cruelty. Her 2010 project Why Not Eat Your Pet is a collection of work depicting the atrocities inflicted on animals, focusing on the hypocrisy of human treatment of food animals by juxtaposing them with pets and babies in a creepy, yet child-like way. A portion of the proceeds from the “Why Not Eat Your Pet” project are donated to animal protection groups and sanctuaries.