Artist website – https://www.danaellyn.com/
Dana Ellyn is a vegan artist who explores a lot of controversial topics and challenges social norms from religion to not wanting kids and our relationship with animals, particularly in the contexts of which animals we decide to eat. Although I find all of her work interesting with powerful messages being presented within her art, it is the animal subject that draws me in as it is relevant to my subject and her unique ways of working could allow me to develop my work in ways that I haven’t thought of yet.
As well as subject matter, her bold choices of colour interest me as the uses of abstract colour seem to take away from the subject, maybe as a way of showing how the animals are often overlooked by society and not deemed as important, which is something I have been exploring in my own work – although not to the same extreme levels.
This is a fairly large painting of a cow and a dog staring at the viewer. Although the animals are painted in a way that makes them look distorted and disproportional, I feel that the painting is very effective and unique. Since they are painted in a similar way, Dana Ellyn is showing the viewer that there isn’t much difference between them at all. I find the fact that they are staring directly at the viewer very interesting and this is something which I have been exploring in my own work but seeing it achieved in a different way is very inspiring. The green background works well as it reminds me of a field or a park, areas in which cows live and dogs go for walks. This painting raises the question of how can we choose which animals to eat and which animals to have as pets.
Dana Ellyn has had trouble eating meat since she was a child, often feeling sick at the thought of it and having to have her meat well cooked or she would refuse to eat it. Chicken, in particular, seemed to be a big problem for her – reminding me of a phobia that some people have of eating undercooked food, chicken, in particular, being a tough food. She was unaware that being a vegetarian was an option and so only took that step during adulthood, eventually deciding to go fully vegan.
In some of her work, she places animals next to the foods that they become after slaughter, for example, a piglet near a piece of bacon, to make people think more about where their food came from. This is an interesting concept as although many people do know where meat comes from, they may have never been confronted with the animal and byproduct side by side. To Ellyn’s surprise, meat-eaters were more interested in her work than vegans/vegetarians and so she hopes that her art can encourage people to eat less meat or become completely vegetarian/vegan.
In this painting, I love the fact that some of the bare cardboard has been left in the background and the floor as this looks incomplete and careless which could be a reflection of how humans can be careless towards animals. The colours used work well together and the different textures created with brushstrokes are effective. The gaze of the piglet evokes a sad feeling, which is made worse with the bacon next to it as the piglet could be looking towards the viewer for help so that it doesn’t have the same brutal outcome. When I first looked at this painting, I didn’t realise that the words bacon and pig were added beneath but when I looked closer I realised. I believe that this was added in such small writing because it doesn’t matter, people know what they are and still engage in eating meat.
Some of Dana Ellyn’s more controversial works involving the meat subject including ‘Baby Back Ribs’ are images that people do not want to see or think about. This shows that sometimes people who consume animals are content with doing so when it is out of sight, out of mind. But they don’t like to be confronted with the brutality or a dynamic shift that evokes disgust. Due to the outrage that some of her works got in the past, Ellyn tries to get her ideas involving animals across in a more subtle way with animals gazing directly at the viewer in a cute manner to try to get viewers to sympathise with the animals.
This is the painting that was mentioned above which shows a role reversal between humans and pigs. It shows a human baby which has a lot of its back flesh missing with pigs’ portraits hung up like humans have. Though I understand why this painting can be hard to look at as it creates a lot more uproar since it is humans being tortured, it also shows how brutal humans can be. This shock factor could be enough to put a lot of people off of meat, especially since the baby has such a pained facial expression. There is a large contrast between the light wall and the red table/bloody baby and flesh tones. I believe the colours used are to emphasise violence and brutality. I find the dark border – sort of reminding me of a vignette effect works really well as it makes the viewer zone in on the image depicted.
The two paintings above demonstrate some of Dana Ellyn’s paintings in which she paints one animal on one side and one animal on the other. Though they are both painted in different styles, with ‘pitbeef’ being realistically painted and ‘pug/pig’ being painted in a more abstract style with lots of mark-making and pattern, they both show how animals are quite similar and it is unfair to worship and care for some (the pets) yet not care and slaughter the others (farm animals). These paintings remind me of the ‘staring contest’ which I wrote about at the start of this blog post, however, I feel that these paintings explore the ideas in a more interesting way which captures my attention more. The choices of animals used work very well, as Pitbulls and cows both have long faces so their faces fit together well and pugs/pigs both have quite rounded faces. I love the fact that the animals are making direct eye contact with the viewer as this evokes a sense of sympathy yet also makes the viewer uncomfortable which is essential in exploring such topics.
- Full time painter based in Washington DC.
- In the video she is talking in her studio
- Best known for her paintings concerning vegetarianism/veganism and animal Most current series called ‘look me in the eyes and tell me I’m delicious’ where she paints cute animals looking at the viewer with the intention to make the viewer not want to eat the animals as they are too cute
- Shows some of her vegetarian themed art works – pig painting inspired by the mcgreet painting that says this is not a pipe. In her work she put the text ‘this is not bacon’ in French underneath a pig painting on a bold pink background. Ellyn sees animals and just sees animals but some people see animals and see food which she is hoping to change with her art
- ‘To bee or not to bee’- concerning the death of bee colonies and how when bees go away we’re in big trouble as we won’t have any food
- Inspired by tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, ‘Goldilocks and the three meals’ – pig head is too fleshy, fish head is too fishy and the plate of fruit is just right
- ‘you’re gonna eat that?’ Little girl licking her fingers thinking the chick is a chicken nugget and the child on the right represents Dana Ellyn’s complete horror of ‘no it’s a cute little chick, why on earth are you going to eat that’ and then the child on the left represents people who are too young to understand.
Reason that I researched into Dana Ellyn’s art:
I decided to research into Dana Ellyn’s work as she explores animal ethics subjects which is related to my own work. Some of her work is quite extreme whilst my work approaches animal ethics in a more subtle way focusing more on emotion rather than violent imagery. Despite this, I still feel that it is important to explore how this imagery can affect an audience and see how Dana Ellyn’s experiences with feedback could make a difference. Ellyn’s work is more focused towards the meat industry since she is a vegan but she also explores how we treat the animals we eat -farm animals- so differently to the pets we have -dogs and cats- even though they are so similar. These paintings really make you consider how similar all animals are and how we as a society are so disrespectful to certain animals as we have always seen them as animals we eat rather than seeing them as having a right to live.
I also like Dana Ellyn’s uses of pattern, detail and colour as these are important factors in my own work and so I could adapt Dana Ellyn’s bold colours to see how they affect my work. Colour is such a vital element of my work to draw on the humorous aspect of people who claim to care about animals yet don’t do anything to better their living standards or make any sort of change. Dana Ellyn’s paintings have animals which make direct eye contact with the viewers similarly to my paintings which I find captivating and make you feel sad for the animals – which is an interesting concept in my opinion.