Ariel Vargassal paints dynamic scenes of humans and animals to address social issues through metaphor. Inspired by his Mexican heritage and indigenous traditions across the Americas, he identifies as a cultural commentator and storyteller. His paintings probe personal struggles, such as mental health, alongside urgent societal questions related to inequality, race, and gender. In his precisely rendered and carefully composed images, human figures engage with goats, hyenas, birds, and other creatures. His ongoing zoomorphic portrait series Totems presents these animals as symbolic portrayals of his subjects’ inner selves or the challenges they face, simultaneously inviting animals into human society and insisting upon the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world.