I still have more to share about my visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, but while I’m collecting my thoughts, I wanted to tell you about a fantastic artist I met in Kanab. I fell in love with Cyrus Mejia’s art because it filled me with joy, and now that I’ve seen more of it I’m overwhelmed with the message behind his art. It has literally moved me to tears on several occasions.
After we had checked into our hotel, I had a little down time before dinner and decided to walk around Kanab on my own. It is a cute town set in one of the most dramatic landscapes I’ve ever seen.
On a whim, I entered Raven’s Heart Gallery, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made. It is a small gallery, and has a beautiful collection of artwork, but I was mesmerized by two large charcoal studies on one of the back walls.
The young woman who was working at the gallery told me that one of the gallery owners, Cyrus Mejia, is also the creator of these portraits. I asked for a card, fully intending on writing him an email asking to feature his work.
At dinner that night, I showed a photo from the gallery to my new friends and raved about this magnificent place.
Later, we were talking about the events planned for our first day at the Sanctuary including a hike led by one of the co-founders of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Cyrus. I practically shrieked with excitement, hoping it was the same Cyrus. And yes, it was!
Cyrus is an excellent tour guide, personable, entertaining and informative. About half way through our incredibly gorgeous hike, I couldn’t contain myself anymore, and I mentioned to Cyrus that I found his gallery, and I loved his work. Well, “mention” is probably the wrong verb, but let’s just pretend I didn’t break into fangirl mode. It is my version of the story and like Monica, I want to come off as breezy.
Cyrus was very gracious and invited all of us to stop by the gallery the next night when he was going to be there. Cyrus is a gifted artist, as well as a co-founder of Best Friends, and he uses his art to make a difference.
These charcoal studies that filled my heart and soul with pure joy are part of a project called Pits And Perception. I have been privileged to see many of the world’s most famous paintings in person, but I’m not sure any have touched me quite like this one.
From Cyrus: “Art can present us with a different view, a new perspective, another way of thinking about things. In this series of paintings of Pit Bulls, I’m challenging the current-day perception of these dogs. Not by changing their image, but by depicting them close-up, larger than life, and inviting the viewer to question how they see and perceive Pit Bulls.
The inspiration for this project came to me from two discoveries. First of all, the understanding that pit bulls and other so-called “bully breeds” account for a large percentage of animals being destroyed in shelters. And secondly, the realization that public perception of these dogs has changed over the years, and their reputation as vicious killers is fairly recent.
I gave myself a challenge. To create art, that could help change public perception of pit bulls. The idea that came to me was to fill a room with larger-than-life paintings of pit bulls and invite viewers to look closely at these dogs. I remember reading that Georgia O’Keefee decided to paint her series of large flowers to force people to stop and look at the flowers. I figured that I would do the same thing for the pit bulls.”
While visiting Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, I saw another painting by Cyrus Mejia. This one is part of the Mill Dogs Revenge project.
What I didn’t realize at first, is that Velma is not a white dog, but rather the painting is unfinished and she is in charcoal because she is a “work in progress.” Each piece of the Mill Dog Rescue Project has a small description of the dog which speaks volumes. “Velma-Permanent head tilt from years in a cage breeding for the market. Now safe as a Princess.”
“Emily-splayed feet from living in breeder’s cage, now pampered and loved.”
“Tootsie- shut down and unresponsive from a life of forced breeding, now alert and curious about the good life! “
“Mindy–Frightened, Tattooed, and Imprisoned. Now Free From Suffering.”
In addition to making the world a better place, Cyrus also offers custom pet portraits. You can learn more about the process here.
I encourage to look at the art in your home and if you don’t love it, replace it with something personal and meaningful like a pet portrait!
These paintings are incredible. The story behind artwork enhances that.
Talent Hounds says
What an amazing series of paintings. It is so true that art including photos can change our perception of things and dogs.
These really are gorgeous! It is easy to see how you are so moved by them!
These are really nice. I like Velma in her unfinished state!
Tenacious Little Terrier says
The Mill Dog Rescue Portrait has some lovely portraits! The captions are sad but I’m glad they have a better life now.
It really makes you think about the life they had before, and at the same time, restores your hope for humanity, because each of these dogs finally received the love they should have had all along.
Dolly the Doxie says
What a great find, and art! Love Dolly
Sweet Purrfections says
Wow! These paintings are emotional.
The DIY Dog Mom says
We have a few pieces of art of our dogs done by a local artists but I may have to reach out for a piece by Cyrus! How beautiful. Thanks for sharing!
Dash Kitten Crew says
I love the pictures, aren’t these just amazing! It is difficult to get a good animal portraitist who works with commitment and conviction,
Elizabeth Keene says
Beautiful pieces! He really captures their eyes.
What a gift that you got to experience the gallery and the sanctuary first hand. I just can’t imagine the emotions.
The whole weekend was incredible.
Ruth and Layla says
OMG those paintings are amazing, what a gift and what a way to memorialize your pet
Carol Bryant says
WOW these paintings truly captured the soul of the animal. I see their heart and kindness through the eyes. Beautiful.
Rugby James says
That was an amazing post!! WOW!! Each of those dogs was depicted as a unique dog, and that uniqueness really shines through his work. Those EYES!! Thanks so much for writing this one!!
I love these…he captures their souls completely. I hope his work brings more compassion to unwanted and misunderstood dogs.
What cool paintings!
What a privilege is was to meet Cyrus. He is as genuine, compassionate and beautiful as his art. You’ve done a wonderful job sharing who he is and the deep meaning behind his work.
Cyrus Mejia says
Beth, thank you so much for the great article! It was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to seeing you next time you’re in the neighborhood! Cyrus
Thank you so much, Cyrus! I can’t wait to go back and I hope I’ll see you when I do!
wow! Great pictures!
Christy Paws says
What pawsome artwork! I love the reason for it. Thank catness the sad stories have happy endings.
Sarcastic Dog says
I am so in love with these paintings! You know the pit bull series is near and dear to my heart and Cyrus really captures emotion behind the eyes of all the dogs in the paintings. So glad your wandering took you into the gallery.
Like all great works of art, these are even more powerful in person!
Bryn Nowell says
Such an amazing talent! You can see the spirit of the animals in his artwork! Thank you so much for sharing his pieces and your experience.
Brian Frum says
Those are all so amazingly good and they made us smile!
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) says
The stories are heart warming.
Kristian Taylor says
What a talented artist! Great work.
Very cool artwork! Thank you Cyrus for working towards changing the perception of pit bulls and other common “bully breeds”. And of course, thank you Beth for sharing his work and continuing to advocate for all dogs, regardless of breed.
Why do you want to change public perception of pit bulls? They’re killing a human every nine days, now, and they kill other dogs every single day.
I’m so sorry if you’ve had a negative encounter with a Pit bull. I think the issue is way more complicated than the “breed” of the dog. I recommend you read https://sarcasticdog.com/bronwen-dickey-changing-conversation-misunderstood-pit-bull/ for a brief overview of the book “Changing the Conversation About Pit Bulls.” I’ve had experience with an aggressive dog (NOT a Pit bull), and it was traumatizing. I believe that the issue is with individual dogs and the way they are raised. I was once nervous around Pit bulls because of all the things I read about them, but then I met a few and realized they are just like any other dog.