Artist uses animal remains in paintings

Nina Gehl has been blending animal remains with oils, and using these to create portraits and other paintings.
ANDREW GORRIE/The Dominion Post
Nina Gehl has been blending animal remains with oils, and using these to create portraits and other paintings.

The Wellington-based partner of a Hobbit actor is painting portraits using the cremated remains of animals - and has approached local cemeteries about obtaining human ashes for her artworks.

Nina Gehl is an American painter who is living in Wellington until June while her partner, Scottish actor Ken Stott, plays Balin in The Hobbit.

Since she began painting in Wellington in March - working out of a studio in the Stella Maris buildings saved by Sir Peter Jackson - Gehl has been blending animal remains with oils, and using these to create portraits and other paintings. She also works with wood ashes collected from friends' fireplaces.

The works go on sale at Wellington's Page Blackie Gallery tomorrow, ranging from $8500 to $28,500 each.

The animal remains in her paintings were those of a cat and a dog that were unclaimed from a vet clinic and cremated at Soul Friend Pet Crematorium in Palmerston North.

"I'm not being sinister about it," she said. "I'm turning those remains into something that's beautiful. I love animals. I don't want to go down the Gothic road with my art. These ashes are discarded anyway and I'm immortalising them in a symbolic way.

"They represent where we're going. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I'm trying to celebrate the ash instead of trying to pretend it's not what it is."

While she is not actively trying to get human ashes, she said that was an extreme version of what she hoped to do. A friend in London had asked her whether she might be able to create a painting of her late mother, using her ashes.

That gave her the idea that she might be able to extend her art blending human ashes with oils, so she approached three crematoriums here.

"It's impossible to get unclaimed human ash, though. I think they thought I was barking mad. I'm not a necrophiliac. To me it's just a material. That may sound really crass, I know."

Simone Morrison, of Soul Friend Pet Crematorium in Palmerston North, said the ashes would otherwise have been dumped in the landfill.

"I had to dwell on it," Morrison said. "Using animals for art - that's a very big topic. But the animals have been handled respectfully when they come here."

The Dominion Post