Dana Ellyn’s talent shined through at a young age, though growing up, she was quiet and reserved – until about age 30. Looking at her extensive portfolio, it’s clear she found her voice. Her paintings have powerful stories to tell and opinions to profess. Her work can be more accurately described as colorful, creative critiques of social norms – questioning everything from politics to religion to, more recently, our food choices.
As a long time vegetarian, now vegan, Dana’s animal-themed art poses the question: why do we love some animals and eat others?
In celebration of US VegWeek, Dana is now showing and selling her special new collection online with 20% of sales being donated to Compassion Over Killing! Hurry – she’s already sold 11 paintings and this benefit only last through May 2.
Despite her busy painting schedule, Dana managed to find a few minutes to put down her paint brush and pick up the phone to talk with us – though she later confessed she was still actually painting a bit during our interview.
How long have you been vegetarian/vegan?
I’ve been a vegetarian at heart since I was a kid. I was constantly getting in trouble at the dinner table for picking at my food, often being told to “Stop dissecting it and just eat it.” I’d cut my meat into tiny, shredded, pieces and turn them around for inspection on my fork before putting it in my mouth. My meat had to be well done (nearly charred) since any sign of oozing blood was a deal breaker. Chicken on the bone sent me reeling when I’d encounter a tendon or vein. I didn’t know as a kid that not eating meat was an option. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I went officially vegetarian. Then, 5 months ago I took it a step further and went vegan.
When did you start incorporating vegetarian or farmed animal themes into your work?
Animals have been making cameo appearances in my art for years. But, it wasn’t until my exhibit in 2013 for DC’s Meat-Free week that I really went whole-hog, so to speak, on the animal themed paintings. When I created my “Look Me In The Eye and Tell Me I’m Delicious” series, I thought vegans or vegetarians would be most interested in them. Putting an adorable piglet next to a slab of bacon might cause a meat-eater to become uncomfortable because it makes them think about where their food comes from. Bacon = pig. Burger = cow. Chicken = bird. But to my surprise the first painting I sold in that series was purchased by a meat eater – ideally I’d like to think a soon-to-be-vegetarian. My hope is that every time she sees the cute piglet, it becomes harder for her to chew on bacon.
What’s your favorite farmed animal piece?
Not sure I can name a favorite. I tend to like the most recent things I’ve created best. It pushes me to create something even better next time so that can take the place as my new favorite.
What reaction do you get from people who see your work?
There’s a full spectrum – everything from love to derision; connection to confusion. Over the past 15 years that I’ve been painting full time, I’ve dabbled in a lot of different subject matter, much of it controversial. Especially those touchy topics you’re not supposed to discuss at a dinner party: religion, politics, divorce, not wanting kids, etc.
When I began to really focus on creating veg-themed paintings I thought I was venturing in to less controversial territory. I was definitely wrong. To me, my paintings like “Baby Back Ribs” and “Independence (from Meat) Day” were *obvious* images – they’re pictures I see in my head when I think about where the meat sitting on our plate came from. But, it turns out that most people don’t like to think about that. Lesson learned for me. Though I still paint these hard-hitting vegan themed paintings, I’ve balanced them out with a large collection of kinder, gentler pairings that feature cute animals who peer at the viewer with innocent eyes sending the simple message: “I have feelings, please don’t eat me.”
When you’re not painting, what do you enjoy doing?
In short; reading, cooking, eating and running. I realized recently that my ‘hobbies’ tend to tie back into my art. When I read, I find inspiration. My love of cooking has definitely developed in direct correlation to the importance I put on my diet. Becoming vegan has opened up a whole new world of cooking experiments that make me and my husband (he’s vegan too) exclaim (with a bit of frustration) why does anyone need to eat meat!?
As I cook, I come up with new vegan-themed painting ideas. The idea of meat-replacements (such as Beyond Meat) led me to create the new series that will be on display at the Vegan Wine & Cheese event. In the paintings, I’ve placed cute pigs & puppies side by side hoping people make the connection that they’d never eat one in place of the other.