An innovative artist is painting portraits of the deceased made from their ashes in a painstaking process during which she talks and argues with their photos.
Heide Hatry, 51, developed the method when a close friend committed suicide in 2008, which brought back unresolved issues around her own father’s death.
Having recently witnessed a cremation for the first time, the German artist was inspired to use her friend’s ashes to recreate her likeness using a photograph of her.
Heide Hatry, 51, started painting portraits of the deceased with their ashes in 2008 when a friend died, bringing unresolved issues of her father Paul Schmid’s (pictured) death
Since she has perfected the process, others have entrusted her with the ashes of their loved ones. Pictured is a portrait of John Bernard Boxer, the father of her art dealer Adam Boxer
She uses layers of wax and then adds the ash, piece by piece using a scalpel, to create the portraits, which will soon be exhibited in the Ubu Gallery in New York.
Heide said: ‘I was in a terrible state of grief because a close friend, who I had no idea was in such distress, had just committed suicide.
‘It not only devastated me but also brought back all the unresolved pain I had felt over my father’s death fifteen years earlier.
‘By chance, I had recently seen cremated ashes for the first time and I had been deeply moved by the experience.
‘Probably as a result I had the idea, which did come as a kind of flash, of making portraits of my father and my friend out of their ashes.’
She added: ‘For me the portraits were life-changing since I had to perfect the technique while I worked, but at the end I felt a sense of solace that was astonishing.
‘At first I thought that it must have had to do with the process itself, which is extremely painstaking and highly meditative, and during which I was in deep communion with their images, often talking or arguing out loud with them as if they were there.
She has also painted Emily Boxer, the mother of art dealer Adam Boxer, as well as a number of other paintings which will soon go on display in the Ubu Gallery in New York
‘But then a friend who knew what I was doing and who had lost his own mother at an early age and always felt that their relationship was unresolved asked me if I would make a portrait out of her ashes for him, which I did, and he described a very similar experience to what I had also felt, a profound and consoling sense of her presence.’
Heide perfected a time-consuming method, until it took just three to four months to complete.
She said: ‘I use a beautiful wooden board on which I apply a layer of beeswax, and then I position each tiny particle of ash one by one using the tip of a scalpel.
‘It is more similar to the traditional mosaic process than to painting, a lot of discrete and minute actions rather than the fluid and often rapid motions of painting.
‘The ashes, which consist entirely of bone, are one colour, so I make different shades of grey by also employing birch coal – the tree as symbol of life – and white marble dust, as a symbol for death.
Heide (pictured) perfected a time-consuming method until it took just three to four months to complete. She says that she talks and argues with the portraits as she recreates them
‘The resulting images are a highly textured black-and-white.’
Heide has produced over 30 portraits using ashes to replicate the subject’s likeness using a photograph provided by the families.
She said: ‘Most people see the loving approach and are touched by it, though others find it unpleasant to think about.
‘But for those who entrusted me with their beloved ones’ ashes, they all tell me how extremely happy and astonished they are again and again about what the picture does to them: that it speaks to them, that they feel the presence of the person, that they feel an unaccountable calm.’
She added: ‘The Romans said “vita brevis, ars longa” – Life is short, art is long – and I feel that this is a respectful way not only of honouring the ones we loved and of keeping them with us, keeping them in mind and in some sort of ordinary relationship to us, but of sustaining the part of us that was them, the pain of losing which we tend to feel and to express as grief.’
Icons in Ash: Cremation Portraits runs until May 12.