Art & Activism
While perusing Instagram and Facebook it is easy to find talented artists. After all, that is the Instagram mission, to share content. Many artists use their work as a method of activism and advocacy. They use art to spread a message of compassion and enlightenment, while displaying their talents for the world.
Instagram has One Billion user accounts. The Misunderstood Mammal however only accepts the best. With such a large talent pool, standing out in a sea of images can be a challenge. However, the art of Philip McCulloch-Downs seems to overcome this hurdle with ease and grace.
About The Artist
Philip McCulloch-Downs is an artist, writer and a poet who uses his art as a form of activism. He considers his art a calling, and describes himself as such:
“If, on any given day, you took a slice out of my mind you would find the inscrutable coldness of Peter Greenaway’s films, the warmth and joy of the Kneehigh Theatre Company, the flamboyance of Rufus Wainwright’s songs, the sweeping majesty of the Malvern Hills, the furious rants of Doug Stanhope, the dark words of Samuel Beckett, and the sheer, childlike wonder of the giant puppets of Royal De Luxe. On another day you may just find a doughnut and a pocket watch.”
Philip was born in Malvern, Worcestershire, UK in 1970. He earned a degree in illustration from Leicester Polytechnic (now DeMontfort Uni) in 1992. After graduating, Philip worked for five years in a graphics company, after which he moved from Malvern back to Leicester, and then to Bristol. Ultimately, he settled in Somerset.
Philip became a vegan activist in 2005 and an animal rights artist in 2014.
When discussing his animal rights art Philip believes the best decision he’s ever made was to combine the ethical, spiritual and vegan themes that had repeatedly surfaced in his work and to “do something useful in this ridiculous world.”
Philip is a person of many talents, his website www.philipdownsart.co.uk/ is a complete library of his paintings, poetry, novels and videos. Click the link for more. His Instagram account is mesmerizing. The impressive array of color and depth encompassed in Philip’s masterpieces are somehow brought to life using only acrylic on canvas board, stretched canvas or paper, as evidenced in the many breathtaking “making of” videos he has uploaded to YouTube.
He is a member of the Art of Compassion Project. The Art of Compassion Project is a collective of 150+ vegan artists from all over the world using their talents for animal rights activism and advocacy. They have art shows several times each year in America, Italy, China, Germany, Ireland and the UK.
Ethical Vegan Artist Spotlight
For his Artist Spotlight, The Misunderstood Mammal has decided to showcase Philip’s work of art Meat. Meat, is a graphic display depicting a supermarket meat aisle offering the typical selection of pre-packaged slaughtered animals, such as turkeys and portions of cow and pig, all nestled snugly within their plastic wrap coffins.
What is so different about this supermarket meat bin? Tucked away, almost indistinguishable from the other meat in the bin, we find two human babies, freshly stamped with a UK Meat Inspection seal (similar to the USDA in America) and still bleeding.
The painting alone illicits feeling of disgust intermingled with curiosity and rage. It’s easy for anyone (who isn’t a sociopath) to see how wrong it would be for a human infant to meet such an unnecessary and horrific demise. Yet, most people are so far removed from the reality of animal agriculture that they never give a second thought to the packaged bits of infant animal flesh they’re buying for dinner.
Most people don’t realize a cow is slaughtered before it reaches 36 months, pigs only live for 6 months and lamb… yes, cute little fluffy white lambs, are slaughtered at 8-12 months old. At least they get a year though, right? Chickens are slaughtered at 35-49 days old.
Along with his visual plea for mercy for all, Philip has written a powerful accompanying poem of the same name:
The blood-filled heart
The complexity of breath
The miraculous biology
Of birth and life and death
Packaged up in pieces
Of mortal meat and bone
We take the lives of others’
Though we never take our own
The body with a beating heart
A living consciousness
Made of mind and muscle
All is lost in death
Leaving only morsels
Of meat upon the bone
Though we take the lives of others’
We never take our own
When asked about the inspiration for Meat, this is what the artist had to say:
Meat was created just after I left my job at a local animal rights charity. I’d worked there part-time for 14 years, and had become very disillusioned with the ego-driven incompetence that I found was the driving force behind even this supposedly moral and ethical endeavour. My artwork had had minor success within this organisation, but there were so many constraints and limits placed upon me (as well as opinions that I disagreed with) that I realised I’d have to leave it all behind and go it alone if I ever wanted to have a truly individual voice.
So this painting was, in part, a reaction to that, as well as being an uncompromisingly simple summing up of my ‘gut reaction’ to the meat aisle in my local supermarket. The wall-to-wall parcels of muscle and bone and rendered flesh were a stark reminder of the cognitive dissonance that our society suffers from. Right there, in glorious technicolour, was a symbol of all that is wrong with humanity. A big concept that needed a shocking and provocative image to bypass any subtlety or pussyfooting around!
“ALL the meat in those supermarket freezers began life as a baby, no different to a human baby. “
Any doubts I had about the effectiveness of an image like this was dispelled by the three separate encounters I had with supermarket staff as I photographed the meat freezers. They assumed I was a student doing a project (i.e. harmless) and I said nothing to dispell that thought. It was obvious they thought of ME as the one that was behaving oddly, rather than the families putting dead animal body parts in their shopping trolleys all around me.
I have never felt so angry, so sad, or so much a stranger in a strange land. All these feelings informed the image, and after 2 years it has proved to be just as provocative, offensive and striking as I’d hoped.
Usually Meat is served with sides. For this plate full of morality, The Misunderstood Mammal would like to recommend, See how they grow:
These are two more of Philip’s paintings from his Animal Rights Gallery. When these painting are paired together Meat the result becomes a full course of realization. The tragic trio paint a stark picture of the travesty of Speciesism, The plague of cognitive dissonance dragging all mankind into the depths of destruction illustrated within the grimacing faces.
How To Make Meat
In summary, activism is never just about standing on the corner passing out pamphlets, or tabling or protesting. Activism is simply spreading the message. Messages manifest in many forms. Whatever talent you posess, use it. Use your talents to paint a picture, write a poem, sing a song, advocate online. Please use your skills to make this world a better place.
Please click HERE to purchase some of Philips powerful artwork and support this artist-activist. He also has several galleries unrelated to Animal Rights which display his other works inspired by his experiences and Spirituality. Look for Philip and other great vegan artist-activists in 2020! The Art Of Compassion Project will be at the Plant-Powered Expo in Olympia in February, and the Vegan Life Live show in Alexandra Palace in March, both in London. Stop by and see his work in person!