“You have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
So said Audrey Hepburn, and so inspired by these words was German artist Steffen Kraft that he created the above image in homage to them.
A photographer, designer and artist who works under the pseudonym Iconeo, Steffen has also proved Hepburn’s words to be quite literally correct. Using his hands to create thought-provoking art that often carries an animal rights message, Steffen makes art to lift others up. Abstract or brutally clear, wordless or with text in English or German, his art champions the rights of animals, questions the patriarchy, and wills the world to change for the better.
Born in Heidelberg, Steffen studied communication design, graduating in 2007 in Wiesbaden, central western Germany, where he’s now based. Equal parts social commentary and delicate existential pondering, Steffen’s art is as vibrant as it is easy on the eye. It’s this combination of apparent simplicity and depth of thought that makes his images so accessible, and thereafter, so striking.
Opening up about art and veganism, Steffen spoke to us about his work and the messages within it.
VI: When did you go vegan and why?
SK: I’m vegetarian since 2010, and vegan since one or two years. It was a slow process to go vegetarian and vegan. I became vegetarian after going fishing in Norway. I caught a little fish with big eyes, he looked me in my eyes, and I couldn’t kill him. There was a connection between us, if for a little moment I felt like the fish. So I threw him back in the water. It was a lesson in empathy. I also started doing yoga in these times. Yoga changed a lot in the way of thinking and feeling. I think, there are little several reasons I became vegetarian, and then vegan. Vegan is just a consequential thing, when you begin to feel empathy.
“I caught a little fish with big eyes, he looked me in my eyes, and I couldn’t kill him.”
VI: How does your veganism impact on the art you create?
SK: I love art with a message. Art is my way to show things, which are important for me. As a designer I can reflect the world in a visual and contemporary way. I want to focus on things, which are important for me: earth, animals, peace, health and the connection between them all. The benefit of an illustration is, that I can use abstraction to “entertain” people in a creative way. I love to be engaged in this, because it feels meaningful and right. And it is like a meditation for me: I have to be open minded, relaxed and aware at the same time.
“I want to focus on things, which are important for me: earth, animals, peace, health and the connection between them all. It feels meaningful and right.”
VI: How do people generally react to your animal rights based art and how does it make you feel?
SK: Social Media is a good stage to show and share art. I never had a “real” exhibition yet. So I only see the likes and comments. What I really love is, when people like my illustrations, of whom I know they eat meat. Maybe this is the beginning of a rethinking. I hope so. I never had angry or bad comments of omnivores. I think it is easier to get the attention of vegans to my art. The real challenge is to get the others.
“What I really love is, when people like my illustrations, of whom I know they eat meat. Maybe this is the beginning of a rethinking.”
VI: Living as a vegan in Germany, how would you describe the social aspect of veganism? Of course the stereotypes of schnitzels and sausages are only stereotypes, but would it be fair to say they’re grounded in an element of truth, that to be German is to eat animals?
SK: Yes, you are right. Most people in Germany think that “real German food” is meat. It is “normal” to eat meat three times a day. The most important thing at a wedding or birthday is that you can eat meat. Especially the older ones. And of course it is very “masculine” to eat meat. Typical German food is Schnitzel, Rumpsteak, Bratwurst, Geschnetzeltes (veal), Spätzle (egg noodles), Hähnchen (chicken)… But I see a movement, especially in the younger generation, to vegan and vegetarian food.
VI: Beyond your art, what is important to you and shapes how you live your life?
SK: I love to do Yoga, be in nature, I’m always optimistic. I love to build new things out of used material (upcycling). I love to exercise my awareness in daily routine. Some day, I want to grow my own food and have a farm with rescued animals.
Thank you Steffen for your time and letting us share your amazing art. We look forward to seeing your future work, and seeing you at your first exhibition one day!
Want more? Check out Steffen’s work at iconeo.de
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