Art to Die For: Artist Paints Portraits with Human Remains

PHOTO: A pleased client picks up the portrait of his late husband painted with traces of his ashes.
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A Missouri painter is offering clients one-of-a kind artwork made from the remains of their relatives or pets.

Adam Brown, 32, produces the art from a studio in Grandview, Mo., outside Kansas City, using cremated remnants sent in by relatives and mixing them with paint pigment to create a "lasting memory" composition.

"Having ashes in an urn on a mantle somewhere is a good way to constantly remind yourself that person died, but when you use them in an artwork it's a good way to remember someone lived," Brown said.

The first step is for clients to send in their loved one's ashes, which is allowed by the U.S. Postal Service, Brown said. The ashes, he added, have a texture similar to sand.

Those ashes are mixed in with paints, craft glues and resins to incorporate into the design of a memorial portrait, landscape or abstract piece, bearing in mind the deceased's favorite colors and personality.

"Out of respect, I still wear gloves when handling the ashes -- and whatever is left over, I am careful to return," Brown said. "I only need about four to six ounces, depending on the canvas."

The paintings range in size and price from $300 to $700, depending on the use of color.

Black-and-white portraits are the most popular because they feel more "somber and memorial," Brown said.

Brown finishes each artwork with a written inscription on the back warning that the painting contains parts of human remains, "in case it ever leaves the family and goes to auction, so people know what they're buying."

The first commission came from a friend of a friend who approached him about a painting for a recently deceased loved one, but he actually got the idea years ago from an old TV show.

"It was 'Ripley's Believe It or Not' – they did a story about a woman who did this with abstract art and it stuck in my head," said Brown.

Five months ago, Brown quit his full-time job as an event planner to focus on the "Art from Ashes" project.

Since then, he has been working closely with funeral and retirement homes, who appreciate his ability to quickly produce a piece of art after death and have it ready in time for a memorial service -- a process that sometimes takes 48 hours.

There have been a few negative comments but, overall, people have responded positively -- "especially those who never considered this an option," Brown said.

"People that have the paintings love them; I've never had a bad response," said Brown. "They never get the piece and are anything but ecstatic."

But if a painting is not your type of thing, relatives can instead opt to transform the ashes of a cremated loved one into a diamond as an everlasting keepsake.

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