Bio and Artist Statements
Michelle Waters was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, into an artistic, progressive family. Her grandparents were social justice activists and artists who were big influences on her art and life. She has been making art since she was a small child, and holds a B.A. in Studio Art from University of California, Santa Cruz.
Her art expresses concerns for the loss of the natural world and human exploitation of animals, sometimes using sardonic humor. She also does companion animal portraits and her current work is focused on portraying the beauty and dignity of animals. Her art has been influenced by her environmental and animal rights activism and volunteer work as a wildlife rehabilitator and cat rescuer.
Michelle donates proceeds from her art to grassroots animal rescue groups, and environmental organizations that are doing ipmportant work. In the past several years she has donated art proceeds to the following organizations: Silicon Valley Pet Project (the Dancing Cat), Humane Society of Silicon Valley, Town Cats, Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley, Kitty Bungalow Center for Wayward Cats, Center for Biological Diversity, Sea Shepherd, Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Food Empowerment Project and Wolf Patrol.
She has exhibited widely in the U.S., including in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Seattle, Portland, and New York. Her art is in private collections throughout the U.S., and in several other countries, as well as the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA. Michelle has been a resident artist at Kaleid Gallery in San Jose since its opening in 2007, and also regularly shows art at Cactus Gallery in Los Angeles and Studio Gallery in San Francisco. She lives in the redwood forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Northern California with her husband and rescued cats, and their neighbors the deer, owls, coyotes, bobcats, squirrels, woodpeckers, hawks, jays, lizards, frogs, opossums, skunks, raccoons, foxes and mountain lions.
Environmental surrealism and religious animal art statement
My art fuses my love for animals, concern about the welfare of the planet and twisted sense of humor. I call my work “environmental surrealism”. Influences include kitschy portrayals of animals from mass-marketed popular culture, the nightmarish imagery of Hieronymus Bosch, Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak, the writings of Edward Abbey, and my experiences as a wildlife rehabilitator.
My “religious animals” series is a reaction to the ubiquitous fundamentalist religion in America as well as the tenet propounded by most organized religions that animals have no souls. Some of my animal characters have founded their own religion, complete with nuns, popes and televangelists.
My environmentally-themed paintings feature naughty animals having fun turning our superiority on its head by demolishing industrial objects. Grizzly bears with jackhammers “restoring” a freeway, a mountain lion with an acetylene torch decommissioning a bulldozer, arctic wildlife laying waste to a Hummer dealership and animals tearing down billboards for housing developments are some of the characters who populate my paintings.
Recently, I’ve become interested in animal cognition and the fact that we humans generally (and incorrectly) believe that non-human animals are not intelligent. The most cutting-edge scientific research shows that animals are indeed intelligent, just not in the ways we are accustomed to. Newly hatched chickens can count, and exhibit empathy and self-control. Prairie dogs have complex systems of language. Raccoons are creative problem solvers. As I’ve learned more, the subject of animal intelligence has been showing up in my paintings. I hope that, as we unravel the mysteries of animals’ minds that more of us will exhibit empathy towards them.
Animal activist art statement
My art gives voice to the wild animals whose world is being stolen by habitat destruction, over-consumption and poaching, and the billions of domesticated animals who suffer and die in animal agribusiness and laboratories.
Our species is destroying the biosphere of this planet through human overpopulation, habitat destruction and climate change. I believe that art can be a powerful and effective way to disseminate information and to help people connect emotionally with what it means to lose nature and animals. I view my art as cultural resistance to ecocide and speciesism.