Birds of a feather flock together
Mortimer Sparrow creates stunning artwork to fund her dream of opening a bird sanctuary
Everyone's 'vegan awakening' is different - for Mortimer Sparrow, it took meeting an unexpected, injured soul, to help her to see the truth. Now, Mort dedicates her time to rescuing and rehabilitating wild birds and uses her artistic talent to spread the vegan messages of equality and freedom. We catch up with the artist to find out how it all got started.
Have you always been interested in art and illustration?
Always, when I first saw what artists could create from nothing, I just thought it was pure magic and it became my obsession!
I grew up on a pretty rough estate and looking back, we didn't have as much money as a lot of people I went to school with. But my parents made sure I always had crayons and a colouring book and when I was older sketchbooks and pencils. I was and still am, incredibly lucky!
When did you become vegan and why?
In 2005, I had the absolute honour of meeting a day-old sparrow hatch-ling, helping to save her life and spending the next 10 years absolutely devoted to her, which changed the entire course of my life. This little bird, who was my absolute world, taught me the ultimate truth - love, contentment, fear and excitement are not exclusive to the human species.
I believe she was my soulmate and my greatest teacher; I've never looked at any living creature the same since she opened her eyes for the first time and we had this instant, unshakable connection.
I remember, I saw some chickens not long after rearing my little sparrow friend to adulthood and I felt in that instant like I had opened my eyes and looked at chickens for who they really were for the first time. Something clicked, I became less ignorant, less self-involved and knew that on a deep level, we are all the same - we all want to live and to experience. We all are capable of being saved or abandoned.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I have always struggled with this one because, I would say that I paint in a variety of styles. I paint how I feel, and I cannot go against it - I have tried and nothing good happens! When it comes to my larger bird pieces, I would describe them as spiritual expressionism of souls - through the rescue work that I do I have met so many amazing bird souls and I strive to be able to capture the essence of them in my art.
A piece that sums this up, is one I completed recently, named 'Mother'. It's a magpie and her child circled by a blood red Ensō circle. We rescued her from a Larsen trap - the farmer knew we were rescuing, so he deliberately snapped her wings, in his mind thinking she couldn't be saved.
I strapped her wing and after weeks of recovery, we set her free, but she never strayed far. The painting was my celebration of her freedom and the child that she could now have. This beautiful magpie has now visited my garden many times with her three children.
What do you aim to do with your artwork?
Force people to look at what is right in front of their eyes, but they never really see. Our garden birds' numbers are plummeting due to habitat encroachment - people wanting manicured, sterile gardens and, of course, the main culprit for birds from baby to adult brought to my door: the domesticated cat.
I want my artwork to show animals as who they are - vulnerable individuals, strong mothers and loyal family members. Currently, I'm working on a collection of ex battery chicken portraits that I hope will start conversations - especially with my fellow vegans - about rehoming these birds over cats and dogs.
These animals are destroyed every 18 months in this country by then tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands. Yet because cats and dogs are familiar, we will still become outraged about a shelter destroying 20 dogs, because we can relate to them more. I hope to inspire people to think differently to how they have been taught to think.
Talk us through your Etsy store. What do you aim to do with your products and shop?
What I sell in my Etsy store goes straight towards helping to raise funds for our dream of a home and land - Sacred Space Sanctuary. I have been rescuing and rehabilitating birds for over 15 years now, with the constant pressure of living in rentals.
We are in a position now where the RSPCA bring us birds and give our number to the public. Vets in the area also do the same thing. We've reached a critical point where, very often, we are the last hope to deliver many birds first aid. From geese in our bathroom, to turkeys on the sofa, you name it, we've probably had it.
We want to obtain land, so we can offer more little souls a safe haven - everything I create has the fire of this dream burning behind it. All of my sales will keep going towards this; nothing is more important to me.
What other kinds of vegan activism do you do?
I believe in my heart that living by example makes the greatest impact. Talking to people about my rescued 'farm animal' companions and explaining how we share our lives together opens people up to the possibility that perhaps they can too. The more of us that do this, the better it gets. I have created art for my town's local hunt saboteur group, because we need to help each other out however we can.
For them to be able to use my art is just a small thing for a group that saves so many lives. When I was younger, I was reading a tattoo magazine; they had interviewed the cover girl and she said she was vegan.
I thought, 'Fantastic!' and then she went on to say, 'Don't worry, I'm not one of those preachy vegans, I believe in personal choice for how you live your life'.
That always stuck with me as a real let down. We live in a time when our species imprisons, abuses and murders other species - now is not the time to be apologetic.
I applaud the non-apologetic vegans. We may not be popular. People may (and do) ghost us - but we recognise that some things are more important than being the one other people like at the office party.
So, in a way, this interview is also a form of activism - so, hi! I'm Mort, and I am one of those preachy vegans. I truly believe that we live in the time of great awakening. When I first started living cruelty-free 12 years ago, times and people were so different.
If you listen to the news, you'd be forgiven for thinking we are living in hopeless, divisive times but I think that is not true at all - there has never been a more exciting time to be alive, not only to witness the world changing for the better to be more inclusive and compassionate but to also, ourselves. Be a driver of that change.