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Art is Dead

Art is Dead
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Photo Courtesy of Wayne Gilbert

“You would become part of my universal family. No rich. No poor. No black, white, yellow, brown or red. No male nor female. No transgender. No Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu nor Buddhist. Just the remains of human creatures.”

Some people use oils in their artwork, while others may use acrylics or even watercolors. To most artists, this all they know and where it ends, but to artist Wayne Gilbert there’s a twist. He has gone to the great beyond for his unusual macabre medium. Human remains: the ashes of people that no longer exist in this world. Dead, burned bodies. Some may say that this project is taboo, but to Wayne it’s a beautiful way of expressing his art.

He has shared the pages of People magazine with everyone’s best friend,  Jennifer Aniston. He has traveled the world, and even has has in own art gallery in Houston, TX called “G Gallery” at 301 E 11th in the Heights. Picasso didn’t just one day say, “I am going to paint ‘Guernica’”. Andy Warhol didn’t just paint the Campbell’s soup can overnight. GG Allen didn’t decide he was going to start eating shit…well, maybe he did.

So how does one come up with the concept of using dead bodies as a medium? Wayne had a very pragmatic way to create priceless art. Wayne studied art for over 20 years, reading critiques and books that once you’d get to the fourth page you’d want to blow your brains out because you have no idea what the author is writing about. He also was onboard with a group of artists called the Rubber Group, where in 1989, he and his art mates wrapped a man in plastic and hung him over an arena and let a raging bull tear him up like a pinata. While driving on the freeway he had an epiphany-use human ashes as a medium. In 1998, he created his first piece called “Anna D”, which was once the person’s name. Wayne created a relationship with a funeral home, and when there are small boxes of unwanted ashes, the boxes are passed over to Wayne. It took him six months to receive his first box of ashes. Unwanted babies, to unwanted dead neighbors with no local relatives and everyone dead and forgotten in between. “Not sure of the exact count, but at least 50,” said Wayne on how many humans that he’s turned into art. Some people even donate their bodies to Wayne. It may upset the families, but once wishes are written down in a will, they must be respected.

The ashes are not dyed, colored or treated. Each human has their own color. While a white guy could come out black, an African American guy could come out white. Still, to this day, scientists cannot completely explain this variation in  the color of human ashes. Wayne sketches out what he wants on the canvas then takes a person and shifts their ashes and bones within the shape of the sketching.

He then uses a pricey archival resin and bonds the ashes together. Once the ashes harden on the canvas, he will proceed with another human for a different color. Sometimes Wayne uses more than 20 humans in one painting. Receiving light and dark colored ashes is a great pleasure to Wayne, for they are the hardest to find. So if you believe you will produce either of these two shades, please donate your body to Wayne. When asked if Wayne has an idea of what he would create with particular people, the artist’s reply was quite beautiful. “I would make you a God of something. You would become part of my universal family. No rich. No poor. No black, white, yellow, brown or red. No male nor female. No transgender. No Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu nor Buddhist. Just the remains of human creatures.”

So how do you put a price on death? “You can’t,” said Wayne. Wayne will not sell the decorative dead remains to just anyone. This does not mean he will not sell his art. He has sold some pieces starting at $10,000. He intends to sell the art only to the ones who will respect them-not just as art, but also as people.

Wayne isn’t the only artist who creates art from dead bodies. A woman by the name of Emma Fenelon from London once used ashes to recreate tree bark in one of her art galleries. Another, kindred artist is Charlie Frafft from Seattle, Washington who created urns from ashes. So now one can put dead people in dead people.

So is making art with dead bodies illegal? Ashes not so much, but for Marc Quinn, it’s a different story. The British artist would take a visit to the doctor to have his blood drawn  every six weeks for a complete year to draw 9 full pints out, which is the amount in the human body. With his own blood, he’d sculpt immaculate portraits of his own head to be preserved forever. The National Portrait Gallery in the UK stores one of his heads, which went for $465,000 and is kept in a freezer to preserve the blood in shape.

People will call Wayne to turn their deceased loved ones into memorial art. Even when the caller clearly states that price is not an issue, Wayne will decline the offer. Anyone who feels that he/she should be immortalized by Wayne’s talent, discuss your death wish beforehand with the man and perhaps someday you’ll be displayed in an art gallery gently placed within a frame blended in tender loving grisly care.