Jane Lewis talks to Jade Monica Bello for the Italian Animal Rights website/blog. This is the English version of an interview that was published in Italian.
Jane Lewis is an English artist, with a long career behind her in painting and graphic art, who in recent years has made the decision to concentrate her artistic vision on animal rights. Becoming a vegan profoundly changed her outlook on life and consequently her role as an artist.
She talked to Veganzetta about her life, her artistic aims and being an Artivist.
JMB: When did you become vegan and did something happen to you that changed your thoughts and your consideration of animals?
JL: I became vegan three years ago, in early 2015, after watching the documentary film Earthlings. I had already given up dairy 30 years ago because of allergy rather than ethics, and I had also been vegetarian for a while but, while still avoiding dairy, I had eventually lapsed to eating fish and meat again. Then I came across the Earthlings page on Facebook and wondered what the film was about, found it on YouTube and watched it from a totally naïve perspective, completely unprepared for its content. Seeing that film changed my life — I became vegan overnight. At first I only changed my eating habits, but veganism is a process in which you come to realize that almost every aspect of human activity revolves around the exploitation of other animals, and so I had to consider what my clothes are made of, whether the toiletries and cleaning materials I use are tested on animals, and now I also try my best to avoid buying things in plastic packaging because trash plastic injures, poisons and kills uncountable numbers of animals.
JMB: Could you tell us more about your art and art-ivism for veganism and animal rights?
JL: Becoming vegan significantly changed my artistic ideas and my attitude to exhibiting. Not at first, because I continued to work with subject matter that had previously interested me. But eventually I felt a nagging unease between what I was painting and the burning passion for animal rights that was in my head. And so the terrible plight of animals in our human-centric world had to take centre stage in my work.
I have been working since 2016 on a series of drawings entitled Earthlings. There will be 18 images and I am actually working on the final image now. They depict many aspects of animal exploitation and suffering, from farm animals to animals used in medical research. The drawings are highly finished and give an impression of elegance and calm which belies their content. My intention is to arrest and seduce the viewer, then confront with challenging and disturbing subject matter.
I have completed other animal rights works in oil painting which are larger and more complex in content. Two are concerned with vivisection, and treat the subject in a surreal manner which is intentionally both seductive and subversive.
I had a long career showing with a central London gallery, and had success with solo exhibitions, sales and commissions. I now want to find a wider audience by sharing my animal rights images on social media and occasionally opening my studio to the public. Both are ways of reaching a far wider audience than through an exclusive commercial gallery, perhaps opening people’s hearts and minds. The only gallery I continue to exhibit with is the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery in Vienna, where it is possible to show work that is outside the mainstream.
JMB: Is there a piece that is more meaningful to you and what is the story behind it?
JL: I have recently completed an oil painting called Vanitas. The title comes from the saying: vanitas vanitatum omia vanitas (vanity of vanities, all is vanity). The image appears to be representational and realistic-looking, but there is a disturbingly surreal edge to it, and it deals with the horrors of vivisection. There is a double image of a woman, seen from the back and also from the front in a mirror reflection. She holds an animal-like mask over her face which is smeared with blood, and we see that she has blood on her hands that has also marked her neck. The implication is that because of her vain demand for toiletries, make-up and drugs tested on animals, she literally has blood on her hands. Beside her are two rats and we see the tail of another hidden rat. Several heads of rabbits emerge from holes in a doll-house-like container and one of the rabbits is badly mutilated, and small rodent hands are pressed against the glass of tiny doorways in the container. An empty cage is suspended on a string behind the rats, for their solitary confinement later on.
JMB: What is your opinion about speciesism and how this influences your life and art?
JL: I came to acknowledge speciesism as part of the process of being vegan. I realized that I and the rest of humanity are no better than other animals, and that in many ways we have much to learn from other species in how to live in balance and harmony with nature and each other. Sandra Higgins (of Go Vegan World and Eden Farm Sanctuary) has been influential to me. The truth of speciesism has made me try live more compassionately and to not see myself as special in my humanness. In my art, my main interest now is to depict other animals in all their beauty and tragedy in order to try to change attitudes.
JMB: How do people react to your art?
JL: I have had a great deal of positive response to my new work. Other vegans are supportive of this kind of artivism, and also some non-vegans who normally refuse to look at photographic evidence of animal use and abuse find my images more approachable, though I hope they are nevertheless disturbed. Of course, there is some negativity - there are people who used to take a strong interest in my work, who now won’t even look at it. But even that I think shows that I am challenging repressed and closed minds.
JMB: What do you think about art and its role and importance to focus the attention on animal exploitation?
JL: Not everyone is interested in visual art, but it is all around us in one form or another whether people realize or not. The modern world is dominated by images, and artists can infiltrate this image-based culture with political and revolutionary ideas. Once when I posted one of my Earthlings drawings on Facebook someone commented that it made her gasp. I believe part of our role as artists is to make people gasp. And to unsettle them. And to tell the truth - it can be through allegory or the surreal, but it must be true.
JMB: Would you tell us something more?
JL: My work has gone full circle. I began my career with angry feminist pieces, then moved on to a middle period of more lyrical personal subjects. Now my subject is animal rights, which feels honest and pertinent to our urgent need for change.
Copyright: Veganzetta/May 2018
Articles & Interviews