Welcome to the Vegan Club

By on January 3, 2017

Constantin Philippou is a self-taught vegan street artist better known as “Le Fou” (#L3Fu) – “the crazy” in French. Born in Greece, raised in Paris, and currently living in Los Angeles, he has spent his life so far experiencing and being influenced by different cultures and artistic works.

After discovering the living conditions of animals in factory farms, the theme of his work has become mixing famous icons with vegan messages through pop art, combining his passion for animals and justice.

Currently in Los Angeles, his now-iconic “Vegan Club” posters sport portraits of well-known figures. I met Le Fou recently, and was pleased he agreed to an interview.

Please share your vegan story. How long have you been vegan and what inspired you to go vegan?

I have been vegan for five years now and I was vegetarian ten years before that. Funny thing is that my dogs made me vegetarian. Fifteen years ago, while driving back from Vegas, I got stuck in standstill traffic with my dogs for two hours due to an accident. It was so hot that I had to keep my car running and keep the AC on to cool my dogs.

After an hour, I noticed that the huge truck next to me was filled with pigs. I felt horrible for them being all cramped in this hot weather and I thought, “how come I feed my silly dogs while this smarter animal is treated like crap?” So I decided at that moment to not feed my pets any animal products again. A week later, I followed suit since every time I was cooking meat, my dogs went nuts and did not want to torture them now that they were vegans.

Becoming vegan took me longer. I always thought, “well I am not killing them!” The truth is that these animals have it worse. Not only are their babies taken away from them so we can have their milk, but they are plugged for life to produce milk like a machine and then killed for beef.

What made me go vegan is a story my mother used to tell me about how, when I was a baby, I used to drink so much milk from her breasts that it hurt, so she had to pull me away. That’s how I made the connection: a cow forced to produce milk constantly with machines must go through hell of a lot of pain. I imagined my privates forced to produce semen for hours over and over. Eventually the body part will let go and God knows the pain and what the part lets out – blood, puss, etc. That thought simply did it for me. Wish I had put that part of the puzzle together earlier on.

I think the only thing most vegans regret is “why didn’t I do this sooner?” How did you go from vegan to activist? How did you get into activism?

From a young age I was against injustices and always had a craving to fight for what’s right. After becoming vegan I was looking for a way to spread the truth about farm animal agriculture. At the same time, I was getting back into painting after 20 years of inactivity, and I realized I could incorporate the message in my art. This led to vegan art and street art.

I tell people that everyone can be an activist no matter how rich they are or how much time they have. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another, so we have to find what makes us happy. Here are some things I have tried, some of which I still practice, some I don’t, and some occasionally: fostering dogs; watching and spreading the word on social network about vegan movies such as Earthlings, Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives; donating things like money and art to organizations like PETA and MFA; volunteering for those organizations; demonstrating in front of slaughterhouses and stores that sell fur; and a million other ways. Some of the ways don’t even have to be vegan related as long as we help animals in any way we can.

How did you get into street art? Can you share a little about the concept of street art?

From the first time I visited the arts district in downtown L.A., I fell in love with the artwork in the streets. Once I found my vegan art style, I couldn’t wait to share the vegan message and see how people responded. I started posting a couple of stickers and people started sharing on Instagram. Then I posted a Moby poster, a week later one of Prince who had just passed away, and then things took off. Tony Kanal, Toby Morse, and Moby started spreading the love on their Instagram. Then I had fans that started posting all over downtown L.A. and NYC, and the response was crazy! I owe most of my success on the East Coast to my main guy Anthony Proetta Jr., thanks buddy.

Street art, for me, is a way to directly communicate with masses what you want to express, while bypassing galleries. It’s a gift to beautify the city, while educating and spreading something positive. A way to also bypass the BS propaganda of commercial billboard ads such as “Got Milk?” and “Where’s the Beef?” – and pass along a true message coming from what’s behind the scenes, what’s real.

What is the message behind the Vegan Club art? What is the genesis of the project?

The message behind Vegan Club is multi-faceted. I like people to make their own interpretation of what it is so I won’t go into it. All I can say is that everyone is welcome to join the Vegan Club!

I started painting after two decades of absence. I started selling some abstract paintings but was unsatisfied with my direction. I knew I could do better, something more personal. I soon realized that I could incorporate art as a way to spread a vegan message without being too preachy, a way to make it fun, positive and inspiring while getting the attention of the masses, especially now that our attention span is one second max.

Pop art was the best way to incorporate my message, because famous people tend to get our immediate attention whether on the tabloid magazines or in the news. Brad Pitt was vegan at the time and I thought of his movie Fight Club, combined the two, and came up with Vegan Club. Then I decided to add River Phoenix to the Club, and use him as my vegan James Dean, and kept on adding more famous vegan icons.

What do you want to accomplish through the Vegan Club campaign?

The goal is to awaken as many souls as possible, of all ages!

People look up to celebrities. By using them in my art, people not only get exposed to the artists’ work but also some of the lifestyle decision they’ve made. Hopefully, this will incite people to try new good habits, such as going vegan. Change is easier and faster than we think, the hard thing is presenting information to inspire change and awaken our dormant state…

Have you had any feedback from non-vegans?

Yes!! And that’s my favorite part. It gets them wondering what’s this all about and they are constantly asking me what Vegan Club means. We are social beings that love to be part of groups. Most of the time they ask me in awe about an artist they admire they had no idea was vegan: “I did not know Kat Von D was vegan, I buy her makeup all the time! Maybe I will try vegan too and see how it goes!” “Moby is vegan? I love his music! I will check this out!” “I did not know Prince was vegan!”

I try to wake up the subconscious side of non-vegans so they can consider healthier alternatives without being forced into it. People cannot be forced to change, rather they have to be awakened from their coma state of bad habits and see that there are simple ways that will save them money and make their health better, while ending the mistreatment of animals, that no one approved of, and everyone wins! Pretty much make the world a better place with minimum amount of effort and zero cost.

How do you choose your subjects? Are there any you regret using? I recall interviews with Prince’s personal chef that said he was definitely not vegan, although he tried to eat healthy.

As an artist, I choose my subjects when I feel it’s the right time. I go with the flow and what I feel is right. That does not mean I choose the right person, nor the best representation of vegans. For me, the most important thing is to put the good intention out there.

For example, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brigitte Bardot (my Marilyn Monroe) might not be vegan, however, their contributions towards the environment and animals is worth their inclusion in the club. I am trying to set the intent on them to go vegan, like the intent Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds depicts when Hitler is killed. The intent is a powerful seed and that’s what I like to spread. I used it in another piece of mine where I use a Warhol-style Vegan Campbell Soup with a Basquiat-style crown on top. Though neither of these artists were vegan, if they were to collaborate today, I like to believe they would do an art piece like that. That’s my intention, to make things right!

Some in the vegan community feel that it perpetuates elitism because you focus on celebrities. How do you respond to that? Do you have plans to focus on other vegans as well?

Celebrities are the most effective way for the masses to spread the love. On one side, famous artists have a lot of reach, with followers that help spread the message fast. A big part of my success so far is due to Tony Kanal, Moby, Toby Morse, Kat Von D, Doyle Wolfgang, Travis Barker, and Jane Velez-Mitchell, to name a few. These celebrities share my posts on their Instagram, buy my art, and wear my tees, and their followers get inspired by the message.

On the other side, young people like to put a poster with their favorite artist on their wall or wear their idol on a t-shirt, they share selfies with street art of their favorite musician or actor. My intentions are not to exclude anyone, but to be cautious at the beginning. I’m trying to spread the message with hype. A good example is the “Impossible Burger” currently served ONLY at the high-end Crossroads restaurant where all the stars hang out. With exclusivity, you get the attention of the masses and then you are ready to target all markets.

I don’t typically buy into vegan celebrity adulation because they seem to be rather fickle and fair-weather about it. They publicly declare they’re vegan one day, and then just as publicly declare that they couldn’t live without bacon cheese cupcakes. When a celebrity with money and personal assistants and every maitre’d in Los Angeles on speed dial can’t maintain a vegan diet – to say nothing of other lifestyle factors – I fear it makes veganism look “too hard” and restrictive for an average person. How much celebrity worship in the vegan community is too much? Is there a balance here I should learn to respect?

Celebrities are human like us. Sometimes they cheat on their diet, they have a harder time to convert. I mean, most vegans I know used to eat meat and consume dairy for decades before they converted to being vegan.

At the end of the day, spreading the love is what matters. If you did not succeed, change of heart, out of necessity or whatever reason, and go back to eating meat. We have to understand that not all of them go vegan for the well-being of animals in the first place. Some of them do it for health reasons, some for environmental reasons. The truth is that it’s hard to change habits, especially when people are used to fatty, tasty pleasures and traditional celebrations where meat is the main dish. Think Thanksgiving with turkey and Fourth of July with barbecue as the norm. Some might it’s ok, the effort matters, and hopefully tomorrow you will get it. Samuel Jackson is a good example, he had some pain on his body, became vegan and felt better. Then a movie required him to gain weight so he started eating meat again and the pain came back, and now he plans on going vegan again.

What role do you see art playing in the animal rights movement and in social justice movements in general?

I see art as the main factor of social change! Banksy and Misteruncertain inspired me to spread the love in the streets, and I hope I inspire other vegan artists to spread the vegan love next. It’s a chain reaction that cannot be stopped, especially when one spreads what is the truth and what is just!

How can people follow you and your work?

www.veganclub.co
instagram.com/iamLeFou
facebook.com/artlefou

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