An interview with artist Linda Frost – September 29, 2005

When did you first begin to take an interest in art?

My memories of drawing at the kitchen table with my Mom when I was young come to mind. She would draw profiles of women on little scraps of paper with a pen, and then my sister and I would mimic her sketches. I remember loving every minute of it. I began to draw all of the time and would have several different pieces going at once.

What subject matter did you usually paint?

My life-long affinity with art is matched only by my love of animals. I grew up in the rural mountains of Northwestern Pennsylvania. I drew inspiration from the world around me. I painted all kinds of wildlife - owls, turtles, frogs, lizards, foxes, opossums, wolves, elk – you name it.

I began to enter contests, fairs and juried competitions, and did quite well. When I started to win first place awards, people began to buy my work. I was commissioned to create everything from small drawings and paintings to large-scale murals. Eventually, I applied and was accepted to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts – graduating with honors in 1992.

Who was the first artist to really inspire you?

I’d have to say, Robert Bateman. I remember going to Washington, D.C. on a class field trip in 1987 and visiting the Smithsonian Institute. By chance, the museum was featuring a retrospective of Robert Bateman’s work. As I wandered through the exhibit, I remember being so excited that I could barely contain myself. There was something in his delicate and careful brush strokes combined with his well-orchestrated compositions that inspired me beyond words.

I’ve also been greatly influenced by Salvador Dali, Chuck Close and Gerhard Richter. There are definitely others, but those are the primary artists I admire.

How specifically has each inspired you?

Well, to begin will Dali … I am fascinated by his compositions – upon first glance they seem so disjointed but when you begin to really study the individual works, the story begins to emerge and the whole piece comes together at once. The amount of detail in his paintings is just enough – no more is needed in order to effectively tell the story. He also uses color in a powerful way. His dark muted color themes give the viewer a sense of emptiness and loss, while his more vibrant schemes relax and console the viewer. To me, his work seems so ahead of its time.

I will never forget the first time I saw an original Chuck Close “head.” I remember staring at it for an eternity. I imagined him painting it, one careful stroke at a time. I can relate to giving that same level of painstaking commitment to a painting.

Robert Bateman is not only a master of his craft, but of his subject matter as well. His depictions of wildlife capture the essence of his subject. They convey something deeper than just a depiction of a particular animal. The animals come to life on the canvas and you begin to feel a part of them.

I love the contrast between Gerhard Richter’s early and later works. But, both styles are very deliberate and decisive. What I find amazing is his ability to capture the same spontaneity in his earlier figurative works as his does in his later abstract works. There is a unique ‘softness’ to his work that sets him apart from other artists in my mind.

You stopped painting for a time in 1996. What was that about?

My father passed away in 1996 after a long illness. Some people lose themselves in their art during times such as this. I became withdrawn and uninspired, and I didn’t pick up a paintbrush again until this year.

How would you describe your painting style and technique?

My paintings closely resemble photographs and are often mistaken for such. However, I hesitate to label myself as a Photorealist. I feel that it’s the combination of my subject matter, the composition of my paintings and my process that separates me from Photorealism in the technical sense. Rather than working from one photograph, I create a digital collage of many images before I even begin to sketch the actual artwork. Also, I love to incorporate aspects of Surrealism into my work – so I like to think of it as a merging of those two movements.

It can take me 5 weeks to complete one 8 x 10” painting. I use watercolors almost exclusively, yet not in the traditional sense. My technique is very controlled and deliberate. This is achieved by working on one small area at a time and blending endlessly.

Tell me about your newest series “The Tortured Souls” …

For as far back as I can remember I have always found something so egregious and barbaric about animal testing (vivisection). It never seemed morally right to me. Millions of animals are forced to endure horrible and unnecessary tests every year all over the world in the name of science. Most of the research is fueled by tax dollars – which I find infuriating.

What do you hope to accomplish with your new series?

My goal is to bring the topic of vivisection to the forefront and hopefully generate an open discussion. Why is it that we as human beings feel we have the right to inflict so much pain and suffering on so many helpless and innocent animals?

Are you surprised at the reaction people are having to this series?

I realize that this is a hot button topic, but one that is glossed over and moralized way too often. People should be made aware of the atrocities that occur behind closed laboratory doors. I can hardly imagine someone handing over his or her dog or cat to science in the name of a new, improved shampoo formula. Especially when their pet would have to endure unspeakable acts of cruelty and violence.

Do you consider yourself a political artist?

Absolutely not. I hate politics. It’s a lot to do with nothing in my opinion. You can never get a straight answer, no matter what the topic.

What kind of research did you do for this series?

I spent several months pouring over scientific material, videos and books about the world of vivisection. I would dream about certain images for weeks at a time. If you love animals and believe there is only goodness and innocence in them, it is impossible for you to not be affected when watching these videos - primates having electrodes attached directly to their brain while coherent, rabbits having toxic liquids dropped onto their eyes and the resulting infections left to fester for days without medical attention, deadly chemicals being pumped into rats’ stomachs and dogs having muscle tissue hacked from their thighs.

I discovered something very interesting about the testing done with hygiene products that we use on a daily basis. The percentage of the main chemical in these products on the store shelves is less than one percent. The percentage of this same chemical dropped into the eyes of rabbits, smeared on their skin and injected in their blood stream is 100%. I recall accidentally getting a small amount of shaving cream in my eye one morning and suffering for two days with the constant painful burning. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have that chemical forcibly squeezed into my eyes for weeks on end.

Most of this testing goes on behind the scenes in high security facilities, so it is very difficult to get good information or to speak with any of the people on the inside. Most of the labs will go to great lengths to prevent anyone from seeing what goes on. In my mind, it’s a 21st century shop of horrors.

What would you say if you could sit down with some of the scientists that perform these experiments daily?

I would remind them what Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

What do you think of the modern animal rights movement?

This movement is in its infancy. Similar to other great movements in history, the initial theories and beliefs are usually ridiculed and dismissed. There then comes a period of great debate, followed by acceptance and mainstream adoption. The animal rights movement is no different. Fifty or a hundred years from now, we will look back in horror and disbelief at what occurred. Change will not come easily. When we reach the 22nd century – a time when most scientists predict 99% of the current species on earth will be endangered or extinct - we will look back in shame at the previous century and the alarming number of primates that were used in scientific experimentation every year – as many as 200,000.

Throughout history, mankind has shown a lust for all resources on this planet – whether for fossil fuels, natural resources or animal species. I have no illusion that primates specifically will be spared that fate.

Why should animal testing be outlawed if it saves human lives?

First and foremost, because it is immoral (in fact, an atrocity) to sacrifice one species for the benefit of another. Mankind should not be the final arbiter of which species live and which die on this earth. It has not earned that right morally based on our history. That power only belongs to Mother Nature.

Also, it makes no scientific sense. Prominent scientists in the vivisection community have repeatedly stated that drugs and treatments given to primates versus those given to humans have totally different effects. To keep testing on primates is to waste valuable scientific recourses and delay the discovery of disease cures.

In short, it is cruel and immoral to subject intelligent primates and other species to these gruesome experiments. Since none of these experiments are performed in the name of “national security,” why can’t the American public see exactly what taxpayer dollars are funding behind closed doors? As Abu Graib has shown us, one bad picture can ruin your whole day…the power of PR is not lost on our government.

I believe that if the public knew the extent of what goes on in the secrecy of these labs, they would be outraged. If my art helps make the invisible visible, then I will feel that I have played a small part.

Mankind has not reached the point in evolution where they should have the final say over the lives of other intelligent species. Just because we can, does not mean that we should. Judging by mankind’s history in the last 1,000 years (or even the last) 100, we have not earned that honor yet and maybe we never will.

Would you still be advocating an end to animal testing if you or your loved one had a terminal illness?

Absolutely! My father died an excruciatingly slow death from cancer. The fact is that despite years of scientific effort and millions of dollars being given over to the “War on Cancer,” cancer is still the second leading cause of death in this country every year. Animal testing has never produced a single substantial advance in either the prevention or treatment of cancer in humans. Animals and humans just don’t get the same diseases. As a result, animal research focuses on artificially inducing symptoms of human cancer and then attempting to treat those symptoms. Also, experimental drugs and treatments that have been found effective on animal models do not necessarily work in people.

Do you believe mankind has the power to change its view on vivisection?

It does, and it will. The question is when? How many more millions of innocent animals have to be scarified in the name of commercial products or diseases that are never cured?

Each of us has our precious things, and as we care for them we find the essence of our humanity. Humanity has the power do so much good, and it has in many cases historically. It also has the capacity to do great evil as we all know. In the end, it is because of our great capacity for caring that I remain optimistic we will confront vivisection.

My immediate hope is to participate in a much larger discussion of the issues raised here, with people from many different backgrounds, to confront people not predisposed to be for or against vivisection.

We are getting a belated start on seriously addressing the moral issues around 21st scientific advancement whether in gene therapy, cloning or animal vivisection. A further delay seems unacceptable to me.

Whether we as a nation succeed or fail to confront the moral and ethical issues around vivisection, will depend on how far humanity has matured on this earth. In some ways, given our recent 100 year history, I am pessimistic anything concrete will ever be done in the short term. In the long term, I am optimistic because most movements grounded in moral clarity and ethics always succeed eventually.