Magazine  >  Issue 44  >  Dogtown


Art for Animals

Illustrations by Cyrus Mejia

(Continued from page 37, Issue 044.)

… Deciding to give them medical treatment and some training, care and love, the believed that maybe they could find the animals homes. When the place in Arizona became too small, one of the friends found the land in Kanab, UT, and they pooled together all they could to purchase the land. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was born. “And that was that. Pretty soon we had gotten past the point of no return,” said Mejia.

Ever since Mejia could remember, all he wanted was to be an artist. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that his passion for the animals converged with the making of his art. “I started making art specifically about the message of kindness and compassion for the animals,” Mejia said. The first real project for Best Friends that pushed him over the edge with his art for the animals was the 575 Project in 2000/2001, which symbolized the number of animals being euthanized unnecessarily every hour. But before he began his “art with a message,” he had some important questions to ponder. “Should I include a message in the art? What’s to stop it from just becoming a poster or being trite or over sentimental? There are a lot of reasons why artists may not want to approach that. I had to ask myself a lot of questions about that. Where does the message appear? Is it on the surface, in your face, or does it appear buried a little bit deeper to let people get into it a little bit before they realize what they are seeing.”

About 25 years ago, around the time Best Friends was founded, about 17 million animals were being killed in shelters each year. The number has now reduced to about 5 million, but it has also stayed static. “There are several reasons why that number hasn’t reduced. One of the reasons is that there are specific animals that are going into shelters and being euthanized, and one of those is Pit Bulls,” said Mejia. “There are also about 5 million animals being produced in puppy mills each year. Personally, I started thinking about something I could do in my art to express this particular message. The first one I was thinking about was Pit Bulls and what I could do to particularly talk about Pit Bulls.” He decided to make some large paintings of Pit Bulls, which turned into an exhibition called Pits and Perception, and then the Michael Vick case hit, and Best Friends started to get some of those dogs. The project wasn’t meant to be just about the Vicktory dogs; it was about Pit Bulls in general. The marketing director at Best Friends found a wine company that wanted to do wine labels featuring Mejia’s Pit Bull paintings, and so that is how he ended up doing all 22 of the Vicktory dog paintings.

“I decided to make the paintings very large because I wanted people to stop and look at the dogs, much like how Georgia O’Keefe made her large paintings of flowers because she ‘wanted people to stop and look at the flowers,’ so I thought that I would do the same with the dogs.”

The Vicktory dog paintings are small focuses on their faces. The other Pit Bull paintings are 49 x 56 inches. He made 12 that have already been shown across the country, and will be going to Syracuse University in September.

Mejia lives on the sanctuary property, and his art studio where he works each day is in the town of Kanab. He spends as much time as he can in his studio, and the project he is working on now is puppy mill dogs. Once a year he leads an artist retreat at the sanctuary, which will ultimately lead to one more legacy for him, as more and more artists will follow in his path of creating art for the animals.

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