Can images change people’s hearts and minds?
Andrew Tilsley has always seen animals as sentient, autonomous beings. Known by his peers as the local boy who cared for injured animals, his childhood was filled with disabled pigeons, abandoned rabbits and orphaned thrushes. With an equally strong passion for art, Andrew has put paint brush to paper and used his creativity to successfully portray the ‘realities that animals face in our exploitative society’.
After following a vegetarian diet for 11 years, a sudden realisation triggered Andrew into thinking about veganism. He told Vegan Life: “I was a student in Scotland when I had a genuine epiphany that the meat and dairy industry were two sides of the same coin. I’d been completely comfortable with consuming dairy until that point but suddenly it was all different and I knew I had to make changes. Progressively, I cut out dairy, first in terms of grocery shopping, then in terms of eating socially. I also met a couple of vegans around that time, which was encouraging, but I’ve always been an independent person – it had to be my own decision.”
As a vegan, Andrew finds it difficult to isolate his vegan views from other aspects of his life, particularly his art. “It would be difficult to create art that failed to reference this in some way – in the materials I use, the subjects I depict or the rationale behind the piece.” As far as Andrew is concerned, any piece of art that makes people think about animals in a new way or helps them to understand a vegan perspective, is a very powerful tool to promote positive change. “I suppose what I am attempting to do is promote veganism as an important aspect of generally behaving decently and respectfully.”
Lucky Rabbit’s Foot
In a series of paintings titled Animal Wrongs, Andrew has highlighted the plight of animal suffering by replacing the animals in the artwork with humans – the leading contributor of inflicting unnecessary harm upon defenceless creatures. Some of the issues dealt with in the series of paintings include; animal testing, inhumane animal traps, and the seal cull. Speaking about his inspiration for the pieces, Andrew said: “The Animal Wrongs pieces originate from a combination of my own imagination and my knowledge of the realities that face animals in our exploitative society. Sometimes I will allude to actual events I have witnessed or experienced, but often, thankfully, I am only a distant, indirect observer.
“I know I speak from a place that others will recognise when I say that I have sometimes felt very disempowered and disregarded, surrounded by insanity, cruelty, and indefensible, short–sighted practices.
Cures for Diseases
“Sometimes, an idea for a painting can help me to redress some of the imbalance, even in an imaginary sense – it can be quite cathartic. It’s not a novel idea, but I believe that maintaining grace and dignity under pressure is the greatest strength of all and for compassionate, empathetic people existing in a society rooted in the exploitation of others, each day is a victory.”
A keen adventurer, Andrew was fortunate enough to spend a portion of his life doing practical conservation work with sea turtles in Greece and Costa Rica. Gaining a strong respect for these fascinating marine reptiles, they became the subject of many art pieces. “I love all wildlife but sea turtles are unbelievably magical. I still remember the first time I saw a nesting female loggerhead in Greece. She emerged from the waves in the darkness and noiselessly moved up the beach to choose her nesting spot. I watched as she dug an egg chamber with unexpectedly dextrous movements of her back flippers and, eventually, she began to lay – each egg a priceless jewel,” explains Andrew.
With a strong adoration for animals and the beauty of wildlife as well as a desire for highlighting their suffering, Andrew’s art is thought–provoking and sometimes distressing which results in a wide range of varied interpretations from viewers. “Even within my narrow sphere, I have been misinterpreted – but I think that’s a good thing. I’ve noticed people seem to expect me to be an angry misanthrope, which is odd to me as I try to portray the humans in most of my vegan paintings as innocents.
“My favourite of my own vegan pieces is A Vegetarian at Christmas and most people don’t seem to surmise my perspective at all, but that’s absolutely fine. My most recent vegan piece, completed as a special request, is Liberated 2. I was never happy with the original Liberated and it was great to get the opportunity to improve it, I’m much more pleased with this second version.”
Sourcing artistry equipment and paraphernalia while living as an ethical vegan can be tricky. Cruelty–free brushes, paints and oils are sparse and often limited. Favouring acrylic paint and its endless variations as his chosen medium, Andrew recommends using Copic and Dr PH Martin’s products as these are all vegan suitable. “I love to use oils, gouache and watercolours too but these are sometimes non–vegan, especially black pigments which can be bone–derived, so some care is required.”
According to Andrew, art shops are actually surprisingly very archaic in vegan terms. He said: “There are all kinds of grim products that seem to have more in common with a medieval apothecary – ox gall bladder fluid, rabbit skin glue, squirrel fur brushes – I’m surprised I’ve never seen a demo outside one. Thankfully, all of these items are completely non–essential or easily replaceable with animal–friendly alternatives.”
For many, artivism – a term used to describe activism through art – is considered one of the best ways to spread the message and open people’s eyes to the sheer extent of animal cruelty. A visual piece of art can mean a different thing to each person who views it; there is rarely a single correct interpretation. Reflecting on this, Andrew said: “If people are inspired by something which makes them consider their own place in the world, or see something of themselves reflected in artwork, it seems likely to have more of a lasting impact. I think this is especially true with vegan issues.
“If I can produce a piece of visual art that encourages a viewer to examine and question their own position, without having to utter a word, then I think I have done my job effectively.”
View more of Andrew’s artwork on his Facebook page – Andrew Tilsley Artwork.
Header photo: A Vegetarian at Christmas