Kristin Walsh, an Oregon-based artist, creates paintings that highlight society’s hypocritical treatment of animals. I was struck by her work when I first saw her painting “Dark Meet” on Instagram.
Animals as Subjects
A rooster and chicken share a romantic, night-time rendezvous under an ornate trellis. The painting’s dreamlike quality and bold silhouettes bring to mind artist Marc Chagall’s roosters. But, unlike Chagall and many other artists, Walsh presents the animals as subjects themselves, rather than using them as symbols.
The simplicity of the punny title, “Dark Meet,” snaps the viewer out of the wistful scene and belies a deeper linguistic mechanism at play.
As Carol Jay Adams explains in “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” society turns animals (and often women) into “absent referents.” For most people, the image of a steak only calls to mind the steak itself – an abstract food slab, perhaps with some seasoning and sauce. The cow whose life was taken to make it is the absent referent in “steak.”
Walsh’s paintings reverse this absence. The animal is always present, and either through titles like “This is a Drumstick” that reference language commonly used to divert attention away from the tragic reality of food production, or through juxtapositions like a pig next to a dog or a coyote wearing a fur-lined jacket, she forces the viewer to see both the animal as an individual, and simultaneously remember what is done to animals.
As a child, Walsh wanted to be either a zoologist like Jane Goodall, or an artist like her mother. “Watching my mother work, I thought it seemed like a magical way to spend time and I realized at about age twelve I could draw pretty well and started taking classes at school,” she remembers.
She later attended Portland Art Museum School, but then life got in the way and there was a fifteen-to-twenty-year gap before she got back into art.
Walsh went vegan around 5 years ago. The first seeds were planted when she watched the documentary “Blackfish,” about killer whales in captivity, and couldn’t sleep for several nights. Soon after, she was working on a painting with the documentary “Food, Inc.” on in the background.
“At about twenty minutes in, I sat down and gave it my full attention and at the end I was vegan. The hidden videos of the CAFO’s [concentrated animal feeding operations] and slaughterhouses are a horror show,” she recalls.
“I think I was somewhat aware but to actually take the time to look and not look away and then make the connection that by buying these products I am fueling this industry … No brainer.”
Art as Activism
Soon after, Walsh learned of the organization Art of Compassion (AOC) – a vegan artist collective that sells original artwork and prints to raise money for animal causes. Walsh joined AOC in 2018 and has contributed several pieces to their events. She has also donated paintings to Farm Sanctuary for their fundraising auction.
Walsh’s most recent animal-themed works were inspired by synth-pop musician VYLA’s anti-fur song “Selfish.”
Walsh currently paints with Winsor & Newton University and Artisan synthetic brushes, Blick 100% cotton stretched canvas, and M Graham oil paints (vegan colors).
Check out Double Check Vegan’s list of vegan art supplies for help finding vegan brushes, oil paints, canvas, and more.