These incredible vegan artists are attempting to change hearts and minds through their powerful creations about animal rights.
I must first come clean, I studied fine arts in high school from years nine to 12. Since my studies were concluded, I had never held a paintbrush again.
Although the teachers were largely inspiring and wonderfully bohemian as one could expect, there was something inherently dull and debilitating in the framing of our artistic expression as an academic chore on which we were tested and marked. In the (many) years that had passed, I replaced the paintbrush with the pen, the blank canvas with the page, opting to create my art with words and language.
As a vegan author and writer, I use my literary art as an extension of my animal rights activism; as a form of outreach. Words are powerful and can help our movement progress and promote the social change we are striving to achieve. But I was interested to find out: what about vegan artists who do express their creativity with paint, chalk, clay, stone, glass, print and other formats of fine art? Can the “production of aesthetic objects” serve our social movement? Can it broadcast the animals’ plea? Can it outreach our message?
The answer, of course, is an enthusiastic “yes”. There is quite a number of outstanding vegan artists who use their art for doing just that. I would like to introduce you to a small number of them.
All these incredible women are some of the creative exemplars that I personally follow on social media and am repeatedly in awe of the level of talent and creativity they exude. More than that, they are clear bearers of the vegan and animal rights flag, which results in some truly powerful creations.
A fellow New Zealander, Lynda Bell’s beautiful, intricate, colourful and dream-like creations are very frequently seen on social media. Her works are, in fact, so popular, they have been notoriously stolen and on-sold illegally.
Odds are, if you spend a couple of hours on Facebook, you are bound to scroll past The Guardian, one of Bell’s most famous creations, used as someone’s profile background or in a post, without even crediting her. It was shared so many times, people no longer know who the artist is.
Bell grew up around animals, which made her question whether humans should be eating meat. It didn’t resonate with her as a child, but like most of us, she was taught that it was natural and essential. Later, when she learned it was not, she became a vegetarian.
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It took her a bit longer to realise, via exposure on social media, that there was cruelty in all animal products, dairy and eggs included. For a short while, she toyed with the idea of going vegan, until one day she took that decision. She chose veganism.
She thinks of her paintings as rainbows of optimism and abundant goodness. Her style is bold and intricate, with shape, pattern and possibilities in every part of the canvas. Her intention is for the viewers to feel joyful and invigorated when they look at her work and begin to form their own narrative within the myriad of stories in each painting.
Her inspiration is taken from the patterns and colours of the psychedelic 60s and 70s, as well as the wondrous forms in nature. She makes her own versions, culminating them into a wonderland of sorts, where animals live in harmonious fun with each other and humankind. Each painting has a lot going on — she tries to paint as many animals as she can onto a canvas and fill each background with symbolism, pattern and movement.
Bell is also hugely influenced by storytelling and the archetypal figures within classic tales and mythological themes. She thinks of each painting as a journey into a world filled with possibilities, in which both artist and viewer can delve into and reawaken the enchantment and belief in magic that never truly left us as we grew into adulthood.
To Bell, veganism is love in abundance. It is caring about others. It is sharing compassion and helping those in need. For many, there is no need to awaken these qualities — they are already there. For others, they might need a little more inspiration.
Art is a universal language and speaks to each of us as an individual. For those on the path of veganism, Bell’s art may serve as an encouragement to keep going. For yet others, it may help remind of their connection to animals and inspire them to make changes towards creating a better world.
Painting the world as it could be, where everyone is kind, compassionate and cares about animals, shows people that this is not only a wonderful thing, but it is truly possible. This is what we are all fighting for, after all — a kind and beautiful world, filled with happiness for all who live here.
I came across Chantal Poulin Durocher by chance and was immediately spellbound. A few years ago, while scrolling through social media, I saw her beautiful creation of Esther the Wonder Pig, a masterpiece that hangs in Esther’s dads’ living room. I simply had to find out more about the artist behind this incredible work.
A visit to Poulin Durocher’s webpage is no less than enchanting. Her eerie portrait of a torso of a dreamy girl, echoing the face of a cow, immediately made me think of my Liberation Trilogy protagonist, Sunny. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
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I made contact with Poulin Durocher and I must confess, she is not only an incredible artist but also a fascinating person. Originally from Quebec, Canada, and now living and creating in Panama, she resides in the lush jungle with her family, which includes 14 adopted stray dogs. Watching them all sleeping in their cute beds or lined up to eat is just heart-melting.
A lover of animals since early childhood, Poulin Durocher’s journey to veganism started 30 years ago when reading John Robbins’s book, Diet for New America, and being deeply impacted by it. Her family became vegetarian soon after.
About 11 years ago, through social media, she was exposed to the truth behind the dairy industry and the immense suffering involved in every glass of milk, and after her husband watched the film, Earthlings, the family was officially vegan.
The overwhelming shock of discovering the true scope of animal suffering brew a burning need in Poulin Durocher to express her emotions in her art, and to educate people through it. Her creations are attention-grabbing, large-scale, realistic animal portraits, renaissance-style. The animals seem as if posing for the portrait to be taken, their eyes large and expressive.
Each animal’s beauty, intelligence and uniqueness are clearly on display, creating a cognitive dissonance with the viewer, making people question their own actions towards these animals. Her works are pleading with their spectators to expand their circle of compassion.
In recent years, Poulin Durocher has also started creating digital images as well, with the sole purpose of promoting vegan and animal rights ideas. Putting together images to create a coherent, powerful result.
Other than art, she occasionally takes part in outreach activities by her local chapter of Anonymous for the Voiceless. She has also founded a social group of local vegans in her area, influencing local restaurants to cater for vegans.
Her life philosophy is to show love and care for the planet and all its beings and be responsible for our actions by not adding to anyone’s suffering.
Another New Zealander whose work I love is Ruth Killoran. She is a full-time sculptor and painter working from her home studio in Christchurch. Her paintings try to question the choices people make in their lives. Her aim is to show the joy of being vegan, so people aspire to choose a cruelty-free lifestyle.
Back in 1982, Killoran watched a film called The Animals Film, which was released in the UK on Channel 4. Watching that film totally changed her life. It made her question everything to do with how humans exploit other animals. She realised she had been lied to all her life by those she loved.
Killoran paints imaginary works of hope and joy, that inspire in the viewer a feeling of awe towards the human spirit. It shows us how wonderful it could be, if we choose it to be. Her art is thought-provoking and challenges people’s conscience. She enjoys the fact that her works fascinate people and encourage conversations about their choices and behaviour.
It became important to Killoran to depict veganism and animal rights ideas through her art, as she had found herself disillusioned with the disconnection humans have with the other species that share our world. She expresses this disillusionment through her art and confesses it keeps her sane. It’s through her creations that she hopes to open people’s eyes and help them see.
Her technique is unique; gradually bringing emerged shapes and images into focus by moving watercolour paint on paper. Other than her paintings, Killoran also creates powerful sculptures, which are a three-dimensional expression of her subconscious and her emotions.
After 10 long years of being without a permanent roof over her head following the massive earthquake of 2011, Killoran is finally back into a newly built home and studio and hopes from now on to be able to concentrate on her work. She is aiming to have a vegan-inspired exhibition in Christchurch one day.
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Other vegan and animal rights causes Killoran is involved in are her support for the Christchurch Vegan Society, to whom she donated two bespoke images to raise money, as well as taking part in Cubes of Truth with her local Anonymous for The Voiceless chapter.
Killoran is also part of The Art of Compassion international group, which is active on the world stage. Her work is included in its book, The Art of Compassion Project.
Over in Murwillumbah, a small town in northern New South Wales, Australia, Jo Frederiks is the creator of some of the most unapologetic and hard-hitting art I have ever seen. Frederiks revolutionises art as an expression against the destruction of animals, in the same way Pablo Picasso did against war with his Guernica. Indeed, her most recent major work is War On Injustice, her own version of the Guernica.
Frederiks was raised on a vast cattle enslavement station in central Queensland, Australia. Back then, to question what was considered normal and necessary would have been unfathomable. Our indoctrination runs deep until veganism overcomes it.
However, years later, Frederiks read Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation, and instantly became vegan as a result. It was a lightbulb moment — she realised that she was responsible for animal exploitation and the barbaric taking of their innocent lives.
As it happens with many of us when realising the truth, she was horrified by her own blindness to the harm humans inflict on animals, and immediately wanted no part of it. This happened 27 years ago.
Throughout history, art has always been a powerful tool to inform, engage and inspire the viewer. For Jo, animal rights is the most critically important, pressing issue of our time. The number of nonhuman individuals we brutalise daily is so vast, it is beyond our comprehension.
This notion compels Frederiks as an artist to expose the truth and showcase the unsustainable nightmare that society keeps conveniently hidden. To her, being vegan is not enough, but we must all be active in spreading an uncompromising message for animal rights in whichever way we do best. The animals, the planet and future generations depend on it.
To deliver her uncompromised message, and to draw the viewer in and invite thought and discussion, Frederiks uses various strategies such as symbolism, humour, juxtaposing the macabre against innocence, and highlighting society’s blatant hypocrisy. She also works directly from photographs of farmed animals, victims used in research labs and more, to focus on their expression, which alone tells their story and plight.
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Frederiks’s art is realistic and accurate. These days, she mostly creates detailed graphite pencil drawings, although she still paints the occasional large oil on canvas. Her style is mostly traditional, with the odd pop art piece.
Other than her art, Frederiks has been honoured to have collaborated with two of Sandra Higgins, the director of Go Vegan World’s hugely successful advertising campaigns displayed in Ireland and the UK. She and her art were recently featured on the fine art TV show, Put Some Colour In Your Life, which airs in over 50 countries worldwide, reaching a truly massive non-vegan audience.
Another talented Kiwi is Charlotte Drene. One of my favourite and most frequently worn t-shirts is printed with Drene’s Milky Way design. A calf galaxy image that is both beautiful as it is haunting.
A vegetarian for most of her life, Drene too went vegan when she learnt what happens to the animals in the egg and dairy industries. Before she was exposed to the truth of it, she thought that because eggs and milk are produced naturally as part of an animal’s life cycle, there was no harm done to the animals. It was quite a shock to discover the innate cruelty within these industries.
The style of her art, she feels, is constantly changing, as she is constantly inspired by other mediums and is constantly trying to learn new techniques. Drene’s earlier work is quite simplistic, just using one or two of the same black ink pens.
Struggling to know how to advocate for animals in a meaningful way, without shaming people, she had found that art could be a very helpful tool instead of words. It can spark an idea inside someone’s head through the use of visual suggestion.
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Art is a wonderful way to get people to experience emotions or thoughts in a unique way. She wants people to be moved and start feeling something deep for the animals when they view her work. Her art often displays the contrast between what is an animal, and what is considered ‘food’.
Over the past years, Drene has been involved in a great number of animal rights and vegan initiatives in New Zealand. She is currently taking a break, looking after her health, both physical and mental.
After my initial engagements with these incredible artists, I decided to tackle each of them with an additional final, and rather curly, question: Has being vegan and a creator of activist art held you back in any way (from bigger success, wider recognition etc.)?
Personally, as a vegan novelist, I certainly felt that writing outright ethical fiction books with clear indications that I am a vegan activist has reduced my potential reach. It is only due to hard work and the fantastic support of fellow vegans and activists that the readership of The Liberation Trilogy is fast-expanding. I wondered if the creators of fine art, more readily visible and easy to spread over social media, have felt something similar at some point.
Sadly, being vegan and activists has indeed affected some of these talented artists.
At art shows, some of the artists have been told numerous times by the general public that they’d do better and sell more if they focused on different kinds of images. Gallery owners are also not keen on showing work with animal rights and vegan messages, as often, they don’t like “preachy vegan” art.
It was explained to me that only about 1% of the population are people who would invest in buying large, original art. And when creating very vegan-specific art, it reduces this number considerably. Therefore, in order to make a living, artists are sometimes forced to produce other commissioned art as well.
And there is also the issue of vegan artists being pressured from within the vegan community to create for free. It starts by people not crediting the artist on social media and continues with expectations of free art donations “for the animals”.
Artists create for a living and they do it full-time. If they are not paid for their work, they cannot create, and if they cannot create, they cannot help the animals through art.
A better world for humans and animals can be attained. A world without oppression, where animals are no longer exploited and killed. Art, in all of its forms (yes, literature included), is an important pillar to lean on, on our way to achieving a better future, and should be celebrated and supported by all of us.