Since 2008 I have been working intensively on the human-animal relationship and trying to renegotiate it with the means of painting. On the one hand, the social status of animals has played a role in visual art since the early cave paintings, on the other hand, art can question norms, power relations and traditional conditions and reveal new perspectives.

At the beginning of my artistic exploration of the social human-animal relationship, I painted meat landscapes and pieces of meat linked back to their original bodies, as an attempt to subvert the repression of the origin of yogurts, wieners, and schnitzels – to counter the absence of the slaughter and bad life of the animals with the presence of the painting mass, the colors of meat, the materiality of the animals’ bodies.

Over time, however, I also tried to show other perspectives in my paintings: rapturous, utopian images of a different, possible human-animal relationship. Images in which pigs, cows and chickens, removed from fattening plants and slaughterhouses, conquer parks, shopping malls and streets. The animal industry is ruined and humans and other animals meet at eye level. A view of other animals that is not characterized by a desire to dominate and objectification, but shows them as agents, as subjects of their own lives, as related to humans.

I live vegan and of course also pay attention to my working materials, such as paints and brushes, that they do not contain animal components.

Transgressing Borders and Tearing Them Down. Encounters between Humans and (Other) Animals

Text by Hilal Sezgin

Translation: Rosamund Mather

The longer I’ve been committed to animal rights, alongside observing war and refugee developments, the more often I think that time and time again, borders are the problem. And the more closely I study Hartmut Kiewert’s images, the more clearly I see that he recognised borders as the problem a long time ago, and deals with this in his various cycles on humans and (other) animals. While he expresses it in art, I’ll just try to sum it up in words: not just geographical borders, but also conceptual ones. Thanks to these, we, the ones in power, divide all sentient, individual, life-loving individuals into “us” and “them”. We grant one of these the ability to live their lives in security and in the most comfort possible; we force the other into an existence in which they will never know freedom and protection from violence or basic joys like free movement or being with their family.

In the scenes portrayed by Hartmut, these borders are not completely dissolved, but very much constantly transgressed. His paintings toy with a “What if?” – not a naïve one, but one in which fences, barriers, and wounds remain visible. The pigs in the living room carry the scratch marks from the tight conditions, the piglets the sprayed-on numbers on their backs. In the background are ruins of slaughterhouses, which the cows are now viewing from the outside. With a concreted underground, forest floor, and picnic blankets collated in one room, you can almost hear the walls crumble and crunch. The barrier in front of the poultry slaughterhouse is finally given a meaningful purpose – hens can sit there comfortably with their companions.

The border between “animal” and “meat” is taken away from plates, where it tends to function as a moral smokescreen. The animal transporter, once an instrument of power, is now rendered invalid, blocked by birch trees in the background, while the once-imprisoned family mixes with free pigs. There would have been a similar image in Australia in 1959 – only without the wild pigs and birches – after a truck carrying pigs crashed. The animals, or at least some of them, were able to get away, creating a constant population in Namadgi National Park.

Even today’s highly overbred domestic pigs still possess the behavioural repertoire of their free-roaming cousins. So, what would happen the borders fell down? Sows would lay down in comfort to feed their young. They would create nests for them in small, leafy ditches, and wouldn’t have to push their noses into sad imitations over a blank, slatted floor. A sow spends the first days after birth alone with her young before gradually introducing them to the family. Free-roaming pigs also follow the kindergarten principle: if a sow needs to go and look for food, another will look after the little ones.

On the other hand, we cannot idealise or ignore the behaviour of human children towards other animals. There is increasing evidence that it dawns on many children around the age of four or five that meat is in fact dead animal. They are often brought up being forced to eat it, and are casually lied to. In this respect, Hartmut Kiewert also distances himself from any naivety or kitsch; instead he poses the question of how a child’s relationship with animals could look, in many forms.

I am especially touched by a picture on page 104, the pigs are alright. It probably hasn’t always been that way. Through no fault of its own, the pig ended up in a bad situation, but the little girl noticed and fortunately had the right tools to hand. The other children greet their new companion with joy.

But the girl’s hand lies almost nonchalantly on the pig’s back; it demands neither gratitude nor cuddles. Maybe it’s still a bit tired; if she had known beforehand what was in store for her today, she probably would have put different shoes on, but oh well… it’s done now! This girl stumbled upon an unjust border and tore it down. Let’s do that, too.

vegan painting technique

In traditional oil-painting-techniques you often find materials made from (dead/exploited) animals. For instance pig bristle brushes, bone glue (for priming the canvas), the use of egg-oil-emulsions for accompaniment or some pigments made from animals. In the following I will give you an overview of the materials I use and some issues to be solved when refraining from all non-vegan materials.

Oil paints

The binder of oil paints and media are pure vegetable (different oils and resins). An exeption are the paints of LUKAS because they unfortunately contain bees wax. The vast majority of non-vegan pigments are nowadays replaced by synthetic pigments. Exceptions are crimson (pigment name/pigment number: NR 3 or NR 4) , which is sometimes still “produced” by drying and cooking female carmin scale (nowadays crimson is usually synthetically produced –  depending on the producer and trademark) or ivory black/bone black (PBk 9), which is made of animal bones. Ivory black/bone black can also be mixed in other paints like ultramarin or umbra. Hence you should always pay attention to the pigment name and pigment number, which is written on the tube label (ivory black/bone black: PBk 9). With other paints – like acrylic, watercolor or pastell it is the same of course. Cheaper paints unfortunately often do not have written the pigment name and number on it. A very detailed list of pigments you can find here.

A new development in oil colour techniques are water mixable oil colours, which are better for the environment and for your health, because you do not need turpentine anymore. The water mixable oil colours “Cobra” by Talens are made with synthetic emulsifier. The only problem is, that they only have ivory black and no alternative vegan black paint. The water mixable oil colours “Artisan” by  Winsor & Newton are  vegan except ivory black. But fortunately they also have lampblack, which is vegan. The water mixable oil colours “Berlin” by Lukas are unfortunately not vegan, because they contain bees wax.

As far as I know there is no animal testing for art paints. But I am really sure only for the brands that I use: boesner, Daler Rowney, and Winsor & Newton. According to the information they give, they don’t do any animal testing.

Egg tempera, which is used in some traditional way of painting is obviously not vegan. I therefore do not use egg tempera for accompaniment.


Compared with synthetic bristles, pig bristles are harder and rougher and therefore suitable for thick impasto and vigorous brushwork. But fortunateley art supplier Boesner now provides rough synthetic bristle brushes, which work almost as good as pig bristle brushes. (I only buy these synthetic bristle brushes or other finer synthetic brushes.)

Painting Surfaces/Carriers

The tissues for image carriers are vegetable (linen, cotton, jute, hemp etc.). Most commercially available readyto-use-canvases (usually made of cotton and not linen) are provided with an acrylic primer without animal glues. (But it is best to ask before buying or to contact the manufacturer to be sure the primer is vegan)

But since I’m building my canvases for larger sizes myself, I have problem to get tension on the canvas. Traditionally, the raw fabric is stretched over the wooden frame and then primed with bone-, rabbit-, or hide glue. This is important for the preservation of the fabric (the same can also be done with an acrylic binder) and – more importantly – for the tension of the fabric. The non-vegan glues, unlike acrylic binder, have the property to contract during drying, thus ensuring a very high tension of the canvas. I still have not found a comparable synthetic or vegetable glue (I would be very grateful for hints). Therefore I use already primed canvas (without animal glue; e. g. Henry from boesner) to span directly to the wood frame. Here I have also achieved good results in large formats, with regard to the tension of the canvas.

Alternatively you can use wood as a medium as well. However, wooden boards have the disadvantage that they are very heavy and therefore unsuitable for larger sizes. Also wood is prone to warping. I use wood only in smaller sizes.

In addition, I occasionally use polyethylene-tarp, which is purely synthetic. However, this material has the disadvantage that it can not be 100% flat span. Furthermore, the durability of oil paint on this material, to my knowledge, has not been tested yet.


ANIMAL UTOPIA – counter-images to animal exploitation

Text about my work for the magazine TIERBEFREIUNG No. 101 (December 2018).

In 2008, I began to address the societal human-animal relationship in my painting. In view of the immeasurable suffering and horror in the animal industry, I initially found no other visual language than one that makes this violence, which is repressed in everyday life, visible again. For example, by attaching pieces of meat to the bodies of the exploited animals in order to appeal to the empathy of the viewer to stop supporting the horror of the meat, milk or egg industry. Over time, I asked myself whether and how it would be possible to break this violent relationship, at least in the image, and to anticipate a world in which other animals are no longer caged, exploited and killed.

“Utopia, in any case, is essentially in the determinate negation. In the determinate negation of that which merely is, and in that it concretizes itself as a false thing always at the same time points to that which is to be.”
Theodor W. Adorno1

Now critical theory, for instance, rightly points out that a “brushing out of utopia,” that is, an all too exact definition of what a liberated society should look like, is to be refrained from. After all, as children of the commodity-producing patriarchy2 (capitalism), we are limited in our concepts and imaginings to our experiences in this world marked by oppression and domination. Thus the danger is great to take some of the bad, which could be overcome, into the drafts of utopia and thus to reproduce it, even if unintentionally. As emancipation progresses, the conditions and possibilities of further emancipation would presumably also change, which we cannot even consider from today. At the same time, a utopian blueprint always has an authoritarian moment, in that a kind of master plan is formulated starting from only one perspective, with the implicit claim to apply to all.

Taking these preliminary considerations into account, I was initially very unsure whether the attempts to formulate something positive would not bring exactly these problems to bear, or whether the images would drift too much into the placative or even into the kitschy. In retrospect, this does not seem to be the case, at least not for the most part, based on the reception of my pictures.

What is certainly possible from a critical perspective of domination is to sound out the framework conditions of a world without domination and to track down concrete utopian moments that already exist, as well as to propose and try out possibilities of a different way of living together in the sense of “asking questions ahead”.

My painted utopian scenarios, in which I bring collage-like with the means of displacement so-called “farm animals” out of the man-made exploitation architectures into our contemporary everyday world, are attempts to anticipate a human-animal relationship at eye level. This shift is initially intended to provoke irritation in the viewer. The normality that pigs, for example, are in concrete pens and crates is contrasted and questioned by their appearance on the carpet in the living room, at a picnic in the park, in front of the café, or in front of the ruins of slaughterhouses and dairies. Here they are what they are not supposed to be in the animal industry, individuals and actors and not resources and commodities.

These scenarios in which pigs, cows, chickens and other animals take over spaces dominated by humans could actually be possible in this or similar ways. Whereby it would certainly need still further change than they are to be seen on my picture spaces borrowed from the today’s everyday world. For example, the abolition of individual traffic with cars and a completely different infrastructure would be necessary, so that other animals could stay safely in cities. These changes would of course also be a huge gain in quality of life for us human animals. For example, children could play on the then presumably much greener and more beautiful streets, while in this environment so-called “domestic and farm animals” could, if they wanted, gradually emancipate themselves from humans.3

Even if my pictorial worlds could be understood in a certain sense or even in the truest sense of the word as a “brushing out of utopia,” such advances are nevertheless legitimate or even necessary. It is a well-known fact that people, whether they like it or not, cannot usually be reached by pure facts, but rather by stories. Another aspect that comes up when talking to other activists about my pictures is that we as a movement also need positive outlooks as motivating moments amidst all the horror of the animal industry.

Last but not least, emancipatory counter-images to the exploitative practice of market and state are a necessity in view of the global economic crisis and the ever worsening ecological catastrophe. It is not enough to stop at the critique of the existing alone. The wrong answers to these crises by the globally strengthening right must be countered by strong emancipatory counter-images and practices. The self-destructive socialization under the dictate of the exploitation of everything, with all its exploitation and exclusion, must be blown up.

So, with my paintings under the title ANIMAL UTOPIA, I would like to stimulate utopian thinking outside of today’s (factual) constraints and initiate debates about where non-human animals are today and where they could or should be.

“[…] by going there, the island of Utopia lifts itself out of the sea of the possible”.
Ernst Bloch4

1 Theodor W. Adorno in conversation with Ernst Bloch on “Possibilities of Utopia Today,” (SWF 1964)). Source:

2 The term “commodity-producing patriarchy” was coined by the Theorist Roswitha Scholz. It refers to reproductive activities defined as female, such as childcare or “housework” and their social buffer function in capitalism.

3 Here, too, there are already approaches that point roughly in this direction. Mostly these are rather thought of for so-called “wild animals”, but further developed and with the necessary adaptations they could also be suitable as a basis for a dedomistication and emancipation of today’s “domestic and farm animals”. As examples, car-free streets, city gardens, green roofs and facades, and bird-friendly windows are only briefly mentioned here. > See also the texts by Mirjam Rebhan “Living together at eye level”, Josefine Paul & Sylvie Müller “Cohabitation of animals and humans in the city” and Markus Kurth “Human-animal living communities as experimental fields for a just future” in this issue, as well as the text by Daisy Kratz “What can we do for wildlife in the garden or on the balcony?” in issue 99.

4 Ernst Bloch in conversation with Theodor W. Adorno on “Possibilities of Utopia Today” (SWF 1964)). Source: