April 2, 2009 / 5:35 PM / 10 years ago

British artist's work is a matter of life and death

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Dust to dust, ashes to paint — a British artist is using people’s cremated remains to make works of art that act as a lasting memory.

Former care worker, Val Thompson, 54, always wanted to make art a full-time career. She was enrolled in art college as a youngster, but ended up working in healthcare instead.

But her passion for art never left her.

Thompson said the idea of using people’s ashes in paintings came to her after an unusual request from her brother, whose sister-in-law’s husband had died of a heart attack.

“Most of his ashes went into their garden but there were some left. Anne (the sister-in-law) did not want to part with the rest of the ashes but did not know what to do with them,” Thompson said.

So Thompson’s brother suggested taking the remaining ashes to make a painting of their favorite scene: The beach.

“John loved holidays, so we put him in a beach scene because that’s how Anne wanted to remember him — on a beach,” Thompson said.

She painted three pictures, one for Anne and one for her two sons “and really that was going to be it,” Thompson said.

But that was only the beginning — so many people have taken to the idea that she has now decided to go into business and set up a company called Ash 2 Art.

Thompson says what most people find squeamish is her having to touch the ash. But with her experience with intensive care cases she says she is not a stranger to death.

“I have no fear of that — the ash it doesn’t phase me,” she said.

Although Thompson likes to paint landscape scenes she says she is not averse to creating more abstract works. The paintings range from anything from 400 to 800 pounds ($576 to $1,150) depending on size and content.

“I do respect the ash that’s given to me, people ought to know that I am aware that this is from somebody that they have loved,” Thompson said.

“I am aware it is a treasure and when they hand it over I absolutely respect what they’ve asked me to do.”

Reporting by Natasha Elkington, editing by Paul Casciato

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