Art media

How ‘Vegan Club’ uses celebrity pop art to help save animals

If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you probably know the joke: “The first rule of the ‘vegan club’ is: tell everyone about the vegan club.” This joke uses the famous quote from David Fincher’s 1999 film adaptation of the novel of the same name, fighting club, while poking fun at the supposedly very vegan trait of always bringing up their lifestyle choice. But on the streets of Los Angeles, vegan club is an activist art brand with an ethical message that is now part of the backdrop of the very vegan city.

Constantin Le Fou, an Athens-born, French-raised street artist who moved to Los Angeles in the early 90s, is the man behind the art. But, like most, Le Fou was not born vegan – for him, getting to this point required a series of revelations, sparked by a moment that happened 22 years ago.

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How His Dogs Made Him Vegan

In the summer of 2000, Le Fou was stuck in traffic jams in the unforgiving summer heat.

“I was driving from Vegas with my two dogs and we were stuck in traffic due to an accident,” Le Fou told VegNews in a video call. “It was a hot August afternoon in the middle of Nevada, so I turned off the car and opened the windows. Within five minutes, my dogs were panting, so I turned the air conditioning back on and gave them some water.

That moment flipped a switch in his mind. “My dogs made me vegan,” says Le Fou. “The connection formed slowly – it was a process.”

During this traffic jam, Le Fou and his dogs found themselves stuck next to a truck transporting pigs in the direction of a slaughterhouse. While he and his dogs were comfortable, he had an epiphany: These piggies were stuck in a hot truck with no air conditioning and no water. His thoughts drifted about how smart pigs are and how he fed his dog pig ears as a treat. “I thought, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ I decided it was wrong to treat animals like that,” says Le Fou.

At first, the artist decided to stop giving his dogs pork products. But shortly after this pivotal moment, Le Fou stopped eating meat. In YouTube’s early days, he began learning about the animal agriculture industry through documentaries like director Sean Monson’s 2005 documentary, earthlings. At the time, he hadn’t realized that the factory-farmed animals in the movie, or the pigs in the truck on this sweltering day, make up about 99% of the animal agriculture industry, according to a 2019 report. analysis of the Sentience Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

Le Fou became a vegetarian at first, believing the dairy industry to be more ethical, as cows have a better life than those raised for meat. But about 10 years later, he learned that was not the case. Like other animals, cows must be pregnant to produce milk and male calves born to industry are usually sold for profit to be slaughtered and turned into calf. The majority of these mother cows also suffer from confinement and painful infections throughout their lives, according to a report from the Humane Society of the United States.

This led Le Fou to eliminate dairy products. “I thought about how my mother looked after me and how mother cows are forced to produce milk,” he says.

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The beginnings of the Vegan Club

If Vegan Club sounds like a reference to fight club, you would be right. While watching the film, Le Fou’s ex commented that the film’s star, Brad Pitt, is a vegan. (Pitt never confirmed this, but he did come out in favor of meat alternatives.) It made the creative machinations of Le Fou’s mind work. It was a spark that would ultimately lead to the creation of the activist art brand.

While walking his dogs in the Los Angeles Art District, Le Fou was never far from street art with a political message. He saw the work of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Mister Uncertain, the artist who made the black and white image of a cow with the text: Not your mother, not your milk. “It just woke me up. It was a revelation,” says Le Fou.

The Fool played with this alarm clock. “I made a picture of brad pitt by combining things that interest me, like a puzzle,” he explains.

This imagery, a vertical black and white image of a celebrity with the text “Vegan Club” underneath, became a motif throughout his work, which was repeated using the faces of Prince, Moby, Bob Marley , Joaquin Phoenix, Billie Eilish and even Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Le Fou recalls his Prince poster getting a lot of attention, including from Moby and Toby Morse, the lead singer of punk rock band H₂O.

Although he started with posters, Le Fou ended up adding clothing to his repertoire, once again inspired by street art. “One day I was walking through the arts district and saw a guy spray painting art on a t-shirt. I tried it at home and it smelled like death,” he laughs. “But then I asked him how he was doing and he showed me. I exhausted him, looked at people’s responses and thought, ‘I’m onto something.’

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Pop Art inspired

Celebrity images are a mainstay of Le Fou’s work. But the artist himself is not one to follow the lives of stars.

“I’m not normally a celebrity-focused person, but using their image is an easy way to connect. [with people]says Le Fou, which also incorporates aspects of commercial art, such as a Marlboro carton of cigarettes, in his job. “It’s Pop Art. I started with Brad Pitt, but then Joaquin Phoenix became my James Dean.

Pop Art is one of the best-known movements in the art world. Emerging in the mid-twentieth century, it was opposed to fine art, drawing inspiration from mass-produced commercial art, mundane and popular culture. The Fool tilted his camera to show a painting on his wall: a row of repeating soup cans, in iconic Andy Warhol fashion Campbell’s soup canswith the brand name replaced with the words “Vegan Club”.

Repetition is central to the work of many Pop Art artists, such as Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring, the former being an artist Le Fou draws inspiration from and regularly references in his work.

“If we see actors, a familiar face, people like that. It makes them want to lean more into art,” he says.

Never one to confront people about their food choices, street art would become Le Fou’s method of making a difference.

“It’s part of life to think about how we can explore and help because it’s hard,” he says.

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The artist beyond canvas and fabric

Art is undoubtedly Le Fou’s way of planting an idea in people’s heads about how society as a whole treats animals.

But in his day-to-day life, he’s not the stereotypical image of an angry, extreme vegan activist. “It’s hard for me to get people to understand,” he says. Yet he finds subtle ways to get others to think about their individual choices.

“When I go out with people and they eat meat, I struggle with that. It can be easy to avoid going out,” says Le Fou, recalling a case where he and a friend went to a vegan pizzeria. “I said to him, let’s go to a place with good vegan pizza. If you want a regular pizza, you pay for both of us. If we both have a vegan pizza, I’ll pay. The more often the person accepts a free vegan meal.

“You just have to add humor to the challenge in a way that benefits them,” says Le Fou, a philosophy not unlike his artistic expressions.

Learn more about the Vegan Club by visiting the website.

For more interviews, read:
How Jane Velez-Mitchell Built a Vegan Media Empire
Amanda Saab won MasterChef’s vegan challenge with a family recipe
Meet the first vegan winner of “The Great Food Truck Race”

Vote for the 2022 awards for the best vegan ice cream in the United States.