Fracktured Lives: Art that asks, WTFrack?

all rights to images are reserved by the artist

On Monday October 15th a group gathered in Albany to show their support of “responsible gas drilling” in New York. Apparently, hundreds marched to a park near the Capitol for speeches lead by elected officials and labor leaders. The group says that there are jobs being lost by the inability to frack. In this economy, many are left wondering why there is not more initiative by both private and government organizations to boost jobs. It may be true that fracking would create jobs, as well as decrease the cost of natural gas, but is it worth the trouble?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from deep within the earth. A special fracking fluid, made up of water and several chemicals is forced into the sediment in order break up the shale and create new open pockets for the natural gas. Through fracking, natural gas can be extracted at a much higher rate than traditional methods, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. This drilling process can take up to a month, while the drilling teams delve more than a mile into the Earth’s surface. Once created, these channels are cased in cement to prevent the gas from leaching into groundwater. Fool proof

You have most likely seen the viral videos of people lighting their faucets up in flame, which is said to be one of the many issues with fracking. While studies are still in process, it is believed that the chemicals used during the fracking process leach into groundwater, contaminating well and drinking water. These chemicals are toxic, leaving the water undrinkable as well as flammable–which leaves me to wonder how useful a fire-hydrant will be in a contaminated area during housing or wild fires. To further the issue of contaminated waters, we don’t even know what the chemicals are:

all rights to images are reserved by the artist

“In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole. ” [Gaslands]

Being able to ignite your tap water should probably be enough reason to hold off on fracking, at least until proven or made safe. It gets better worse: It can take 1 million to 7 million gallons of water to free up natural gas during fracking [Gaslands]. Processed with chemicals, these millions of gallons become waste! The Earth is made up of mostly water, that doesn’t make it drinkable. And while I love Tank Girl as much as any 90s kid, unless my friend is a talking Kangaroo with serious rapping skills, a future without  proper drinking-water doesn’t seem very fun. We have technology to clean water, we can filter and purify salt water, one day we might even be able to purify that waste water back into drinking water but we can not eliminate the toxins in ground water.

all rights to images are reserved by the artist

Where we might be able to survive on clean bottled drinking water, how will plants and animals survive while drinking from polluted streams, lakes, and rivers? In turn, how will we eat?

What can we do?


That is what a rather large group of artists are doing in the upcoming Bullet Space exhibition Fracktured Lives in LES NYC. Currently the work can be seen up at the School of Visual Arts, where the posters were printed, but the work will be on show at Bullet Space (292 E 3rd Street New York, New York 10009) for the month of November. The works are all silkscreened posters in editions of 50 at 20 x 23 inches. Each artist created a design commenting on Fracking, varying from the information heavy to a quick jab and great emblem of the movement against hydraulic fracturing.

There are some very beautiful images and moving pieces in the show, but more importantly these are works that will help make the Earth a healthier place for all life. Obviously, postering the city or displaying one of these designs in your window will not reign in energy businesses or even congress. However, it will begin a conversation. We need to stay informed about the toll we take on Earth. Is a larger resource of Natural gas worth polluting groundwater, let alone the convenience of clean water? We need to keep a dialogue open and assess the cost analysis of fracking on the state of communities and the world as a whole.

Or to put it simply, the power is yours!

BRAD STEVENS: Wearing your heart on your sleeve

The Discerning Brute Arts & Culture contributor, Brad Silk returns with an extensive interview with one of New York City’s most talented tattoo artists – Mr. Brad Stevens.

Brad Stevens, seen here at his Adorned Tattoo studio in Novacos shoesphoto by Catie-Rae Zappala.

Brad Stevens, seen here at his Adorned Tattoo studio in his Brave Gentleman shoes
photo by Catie Zappala.

Summer is here, which means tank tops, short shorts, fragrant punks, and a lot of tattoo gazing. If you have them, you know the perils of walking around with them exposed–especially if, like mine, yours are not PG. Everyone and their grandma stops to talk to you about them. Though, it can get tedious or throw off schedules, I actually love talking about my sleeve. It is a gorgeous, unfortunately unfinished, piece, by Orrin Hurley, but more than a beautiful thing to look at, it is a snarky biography of my queer-vegan identity: Bacchus sits on my upper arm, enjoying himself, while food spills from the cornucopia he holds. The healthy bouquet of fruits and veggies spilling onto the outside of my arm shift into decadent piles of ice cream, cheesecake, and candies on the inside arm.

Some people have a lot of hang-ups with identity based tattoos. You might know someone with a vegan tattoo who broke vegan or a person with a straight-edge tattoo who you met in a bar… over beers. No T. No shade–It is just a fact: ink can be more permanent than ideals. Yet, there is another issue in getting a vegan tattoo–one pointed out by Jen Carlson at Gothamist. Not all tattoo ink is vegetarian. Google it. You will receive a dizzying array of information and misinformation…

Luckily, I knew about this issue enough and found a vegan artist. At the time he was working at Daredevil, the sister shop of Fun City, mentioned in the Gothamist article. During the 18+hours getting work done, I connected with a few of the other artists as well; one being the vegan heartthrob,  Brad Stevens, who was kind enough to talk tattoos with me:

Brad Silk: First, how long have you been vegan and what drove you to make the choice?

Brad Stevens: I’ve been vegan for over ten years now. I stopped eating meat when I was 16, I remember just thinking one day that it was wrong and I shouldn’t be doing it. Veganism was a natural step for me when I learned more about it soon after. It was that simple. For me it was part of growing up, you reach a certain age and you make your own decisions.

Silk: How did you know about veganism–was there a big sis/brother or pamphlet?

Stevens: When I started going to hardcore shows there were a lot of like-minded people. Back then people would do tables with info on veganism. When I read up on it, I realized how half-assed being vegetarian is.

Silk: We met through my position at Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, so I know you have a sweet tooth. Did you always love ice cream and baked goods or did your nostalgia for the dairy based products lead you to this passion?

Stevens: At the time I was living on 7th street and Lulas was a block away. I’m sure you remember seeing me a couple of times a day around then, haha. I’m not huge on cake or sweets, specifically, but for some reason I can eat ice cream every day. I wouldn’t say its dairy nostalgia that led me there, I actually don’t really remember the difference between dairy and the vegan stuff. Even ten years ago, living in the small town of Fulton, NY–where I grew up–I could always find some ice cream alternative. But it is way easier being vegan now than it has ever been, even outside the city.

Silk: When not eating treats, do you have a favorite meal?

Angry tiger tattoo by Brad Stevens

tattoo by Brad Stevens

Stevens: I don’t have a favorite meal exactly, I’m pretty big on anything with seitan right now. I’d have to say my favorite spot in the city to eat would have to be Blossom, with an honorable mention to Candle, Angelica and even Vinnies Pizza.

Anyway, I know the Discerning Brute is a blog about ethical fashion and all kinds of culture, but I just want to touch on a topic addressing the whole lifestyle. Where did the rumor start that all the hippy, bike riding, heavily tattooed hipsters in Williamsburg are vegan? I see more of these types lined up outside fancy meat joints than at Angelica Kitchen. I don’t like being compared to all the trend followers when I’m doing something that takes a lot of commitment, and am doing it for my health and the sustainability of the planet we all live on. So how did that rumor start? We’re still punk, right?

Silk: People tend to conjure up two identities for vegans–the grass-eating Buddhist and the angry tattooed anarchist. While both do exist, not all vegans fit these stereotypes and not all people who fit these stereotypes are vegan.

Silk: You work in a pretty traditional style. Is there an artist who inspired you to pursue tattoos? Is their style reflected in your work?

Stevens: The first tattoos that I saw that really stood out to me was the stuff Grez, Ron Perry, and Claire Vuillemot were doing in Syracuse, NY in the late 90s early 2000’s. I tried to copy their style exactly when I first started tattooing. When you’re that heavily influenced it takes a while to develop your own identity in tattooing, and it wasn’t until I got away from that when people started noticing what I was doing. I still owe those guys the world just for doing good clean tattoos and exposing people in the ‘burbs to something way above average for that time and place. The tattoos I was influenced by at the time were a more contemporary take on traditional Americana tattooing. When I explored tattooing further I developed a taste for more and more raw looking traditional tattoos. I was finding the more modern that I made my tattoos look, the more I dated them. So now when I draw I just think about making classic motifs that will look cool forever, not just in 2012.

A vegan tattoo by Brad Stevens

An eagle tattoo by Brad Stevens
(vegan tattoo is not done by Brad Stevens)

Silk: And you went to art school, were you already vegan apprenticing or interested in tattoos at that time? What did your work look like?

Stevens: I didn’t get an apprenticeship until a couple of years after college, but I was interested in tattooing since high school. When I started focusing on tattoo artwork the paintings I was doing were really just a rip-off of what my tat-heros were doing. Nothing original at all.

Silk: Okay, enough filling out your OkCupid: About section… Real talk: getting the word vegan as a tattoo–committed or committable?

Stevens: I think its cool. It’s a commitment for sure, which makes it a good mark of shame for all the quitters. It’s a weird kind of cowardly thing to go from vegan back to omnivore. When someone knows all the facts about where their food comes from and still chooses to support that industry, it just says something about their character.


Silk: If a vegan person has shown interest in getting a tattoo, they have probably researched enough or got flack about a lot of the industry using animal products. Certainly anyone reading this could simply Google ‘vegan tattoo’, but lets make it easy: Can you outline what makes standard tattoos not vegan?

Brad Stevens by Catie Zappala

Brad Stevens by Catie Zappala

Stevens: Some tattoo ink is vegan, some isn’t, it’s that simple. The black that’s kind of the industry standard has shellac in it, which comes from some kind of beetle. Some color inks use glycerine as a carrier, but a lot of great brands are made with vegetable glycerine or just no glycerine.

Silk: Are all black inks non-vegan?

Stevens: Not all blacks are non-vegan, there are plenty of alternatives, but the most popular black happens to have shellac.

Silk: Are vegan products better for tattoos? Is there a down side to using vegan products?

Stevens: They arent better or worse, there’s really no difference. Interviews always ask this, and honestly it kind of annoys me. Granted I’m putting myself into a position to be interviewed and asked about vegan tattoos. I feel like people are looking for me to say its healthier or something, but lets face it, we aren’t meant to be tattooing our bodies. If there are health risks concerning tattooing, they are going to exist with or without vegan ink. It’s a tattoo, it’s supposed to be dangerous.

Silk: Do you find most shops able and willing to accommodate vegans–will shops buy vegan products on request? What role can the vegan-patron take to ensure their tattoo is vegan?

Stevens: If I wanted to make sure a tattoo was going to be vegan, I would make sure the artist is vegan AND they know you want the tattoo to be vegan. Some vegan tattooers don’t really mind the shellac in the black they’re using. It’s like vegans that choose to eat honey, or squish bugs, ya know. The only other thing I can think of is aftercare. Aquaphor and A+D ointments usually have lanolin, but really as long as you keep a tattoo really clean it doesn’t hurt to skip the ointment and go straight to a good unscented lotion.

Silk: Sure, veganism is ultimately a choice; it is up to the individual to define how strict they will be and make sure that is relayed properly to the artist. In case there are any vegans reading this that want to break into tattooing, is there anything behind the scenes we should know about? Is any of the equipment nonvegan?

Stevens: I’m glad that I have the option to live and work without the burden of killing animals on my conscience. Any vegan tattooer should know what brands are vegan and they should know how to make their own ink–but I would say don’t break into tattooing. There are too many people doing it who don’t care about it and it’s really hurting the industry. The people who are half-assing it are watering down the integrity of the craft. People think it’ll be an easy, fun job. It’s a lot of hard work if you want to make really nice tattoos. Tattooing is such a hard thing to get into, that honestly, the last thing to worry about should be whether the apprenticeship is vegan friendly.

I usually hate doing interviews like this, but I really like what the Discerning Brute is doing, and I’m sure it’s readers are a class I can identify with. Usually when I talk to some vegan blogger about tattoos, it’s their flavor of the month issue–because tattooing is part of pop culture now and their one small tattoo is as edgy as they get. From that exposure I’ll get a slew of people wanting paw prints and tiny tattoos done in vegan ink. But I have to stress to your readers that if you’re going to get a tattoo from a certain artist, do it because you love their work and trust them to come up with the best design for you. Show everyone that you don’t have to be a hippy to be vegan, you can have bold traditional tattoos and eat an animal-free meal.

Silk: It is art and you should choose the artist who best fits your needs and wants for the piece. Thank you, Brad, for enlightening us on vegan tattoos!

Tattoo by Brad Stevens

Geode tattoo by Brad Stevens


Sue Coe at Galerie St. Etienne

In the press release for Mad as Hell! New Work (and some Classics) at Galerie St. Etienne, running April 17 through July 3, 2012,  Sue Coe is compared to Kathe Kollwitz, Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, and Barbara Kruger.  There are similarities in subject to these artists – like Kollwitz, her art features dark, oppressive subject matter depicting the revolts and uprisings of contemporary relevance.  Images of death, war and injustice dominate Coe’s art.  She marks her work with defiant text, like Barbara Krugar, sounding out the voices of the oppressed. But it is in their spirit that her work is truly revealed.  Coe’s drawings have an unruly appetite for truth, as she bears witness to a broad scope of brutality.  She does not hide away from painful actualities nor garnish them beyond recognition.  There is a sensitivity, but also a definitive and strong hand. Her depictions are sometimes graphic, evoking a history of revolutionary propaganda. Others lurk in shadowy subtlety — but all are soul-wrenching.

“My job is to expose what is concealed. I share information, the science, the economics and try to represent the voice of those beings not in the room: the animal voice.”

As pointed out on The Discerning Brute before, Sue Coe brings the same passion, found in her visual art, to her writings and talks. At gallery reception which I attended, Coe sat on the floor, regaling a crowd with stories of brutality and injustice, but most of all, with hope.  She spoke on growing up near a slaughter house and how later in life she found veganism through witnessing the atrocities of the modern meat market.  She began drawing to help educate people about what was really happening.  She spoke on corruption and inequality and how it might be righted through ethical living.

photograph by Catie Zappala

photograph by Catie Zappala

Sue Coe dedicates her life, in art and activism, to a vegan cause. She is strong and resilient in her beliefs, but not everyone sees eye to eye. Even at her events, vegans and non-vegans may not agree on how to commit to minimizing animal exploitation in their own lives. But, with great poise, Coe stays true to her central belief of compassion. She believe we all have our blind spots, no matter how aware we are, we are still seeing the world through the limited prism of our species and are trapped in an monetary system, that as it goes down, [it] becomes increasingly mad and dangerous.” I asked her about being put on the spot at rallies and events:

“I am a public speaker and have many encounters with those who farm animals and those who eat them.  In speaking with the general public some of these encounters, are very surprising, not what one may think.  One man challenged me in the audience, this was in Utah, [he] was a rancher.  He challenged my eastern centric liberal views and I suggested he educate me if I was saying anything incorrect about the meat industry.  We met after my talk, and true to his word, he got me into [the] largest meat packing industry in Utah and then gave me a tour of his families ranch, which was so large it went over two states.  A window on a different culture, is always interesting.”

Though she knows that not everyone will change, she also has first-hand experience helping people turn over a new leaf,  “my latest encounter, and these are not as untypical as one may think, was a farmer who came up to me after the talk.  She agreed the process is cruel and wanted to move to non animal agriculture.”

Both in her art and conversation, Sue Coe is forthright and honest,  “In the old adage, beauty is truth–I reverse it: truth is beautiful, the most beautiful thing in the world.”  Armed with facts and her drawings, which seep with a raw empathy for the subject, Coe sets upon her quest, “Research is the key, direct witnessing is the most important. My job is to expose what is concealed. I share information, the science, the economics and try to represent the voice of those beings not in the room: the animal voice.”

Contributor Brad Silk is an artist, curator, hedonist, and unprofessional who has worked with New York City galleries since 2007. He is Assistant Director at Numberthirtyfive Gallery ( and will be working with HEREarts Center ( and Art Connects NY ( As an artist and curator with both commercial and not-for-profit spaces, he has a unique view into the art world.

A Tree Grows… In Silos?

image courtesy of Ken Wolf

This is not a new phenomenon; plants and trees have rooted where ever habitable, but recently The New York Times wrote about trees taking root in the shelter of abandoned silos.  There is even a Flickr group devoted to these trees.  The oldest photograph in this group dates back to the summer of 2008.

Dwindling agriculture, through the rise of major factory farms, caused many family farms to close.  As The New York Times states, “because it can be more expensive to tear these down than to leave the task to time, they are left to teeter.”  The collapse of small farms left silos barren for decades.  They became free for mother-nature to re-imagine herself.

It brings me great joy to see nature reclaim these structures.  Perhaps, now more that ever, with the Mayan Calendar ending in 2012, people often wonder about the end of the world–but it is a misnomer.  The world will not end, just the era of man.  Earth is a resilient planet. It has transformed and replenished itself over and over, and these silos are just a sprinkling of its possibilities. Though it has moments of ridiculousness, there was a series on the History Channel called Life After People that goes in-depth on how nature may reclaim the structures. It has twenty episodes, ranging from the fact based ideas of trees growing in crumbling buildings to cats learning to fly. Can’t wait.

image courtesy of Ken Wolf

These images are also striking, especially when seen on flickr, in their resemblance to the stoic imagery of German photographer team, Bernd and Hilla Becher. This prolific duo created clean, objective documentation of industrial structures built with function over form, or as they say, ‘buildings where anonymity is accepted to be the style.’ Though their subject is often bleak looking, there is a lot of design and humor in these works. The structures are usually displayed in overwhelming grids. In a grid, the seemingly ordered pipes and rails, that flood the composition, turn chaotic and confusing. This quirky eye can be seen in the snapshots of trees growing in silos as well. The flat landscape and isolated structures feel cold and clinical. The structure has a impenetrable feeling. Yet, tuffs of tree branches peak out from the open tops or cracked sides of the these cinderblock behemoths. The juxtaposition of deteriorating structures and the natural resilience of trees becomes a punch line to man’s hubris…

Or, with much less schadenfreude, they can be seen as a friendly reminder: As we try to pull ourselves out of the fiscal and environmental recession, perhaps we should return to natural living try and mimic the ecosystem. After-all, it has persevered at least a century of direct destruction, pollution, yet continues to grow.

Contributor Brad Silk is an artist, curator, hedonist, and unprofessional who has worked with New York City galleries since 2007. He is Assistant Director at Numberthirtyfive Gallery ( and will be working with HEREarts Center ( and Art Connects NY ( As an artist and curator with both commercial and not-for-profit spaces, he has a unique view into the art world.