Painting with human remains opens up a world of thought, stirs up emotions, philosophies and makes one question their own existence. Wayne Gilbert did not begin painting with human remains for this reason, it was more of an accident.
Wayne Gilbert spent the beginning of his art career like most artists do, struggling to find the way to best express his ideas. He was especially interested in learning what makes a piece of art significant. While testing out all kinds of materials, he found himself in the possession of a box of human remains. He mixed them with emulsion and painted with it. Thus began a new medium for the established artist.
“I had a spiritual awakening, a psychic discovery…” says Wayne Gilbert of his first time work with human remains.
Gilbert learned that there are dozens of boxes of unclaimed human remains at most funeral homes. There is a myriad of reasons this can happen. In some cases, the families had donated organs and that release was enough closure for them. In other cases, there is no family to take the remains.
He also discovered that the ashes come in a huge array of variant shades and he could never find a clear explanation as to why. Some research pointed towards the temperature of the cremation, of course, whether or not the corpse was in a coffin makes a tremendous difference. Gilbert uses the color variations to add impact to his canvases.
The reactions to the work on artistic, spiritual and physiological levels are as varied as the shades of ash themselves. Some think of it as an honor, others an abomination. Some find the pieces daring and powerful, others feel as if the ash is being used as a gimmick.
Gilbert feels that by forcing people to look at the paintings, it will also force them to face things that they avoid. “We hide our sexuality, we hide death…the greatest subject of art has to be death.”
At the Houston Cinema Arts Festival screening of Ash: the Art of Wayne Gilbert, producer Martin Delon shared that the story called to him and the other filmmakers for awhile before they were able to get it to the screen.
“We did extensive research and sought out opinions of local arts specialists, we interviewed 19 people and 16 people’s interviews made it into this film.” – Martin Delon
Gilbert explained that the weight of human ashes is about 13 #s. A whole human at the end of their life can fit in a hand-sized box, or maybe be painted into a canvas. If you missed the film at HCAF17 you can stream in on Amazon.