Why you should care
Because it’s probably a little more thrilling than leaving your body to science.
If dragging a freshly severed horse’s head home, lassoed with lengths of rope, doesn’t raise a few eyebrows where you live, then we’ve got a strong suspicion you’re sharing a neighborhood with Kentucky transplant — and self-described great-nephew of boxing great Jack Dempsey — Jason Borders. “No one’s called the city to complain yet,” says the 29-year-old Borders, stool-side of a bar in Portland, Oregon.
Borders, regardless of how much he’s going to hate to hear us say it, is a bone artist. “Of course I choose my material for a reason, and items like human skulls are bound to attract that form of attention,” he says, “but I’m far more interested in the psychological and universal components.” Components that, to hear him tell it, parlay the repetition and rhythm of the designs he carves in the bone into making manifest the realms of eternal ideas like life, time beyond life and the timelessness that frames the natural landscapes we live and die in (and where Borders finds a lot of his “canvases”). And yes, he did say human skulls.
The origin of his preferred canvases has caused Borders as much misery as it has brought him acclaim. There’s a high risk of disease from the germs and bacteria preserved in the bone that break free when he starts cutting, something he learned the hard way courtesy of a pernicious fungus that seeped into his lungs. There are also other nettlesome issues (outside of the high price he has to pay for the skulls) with critics and critiques trending from “that was somebody’s child” to “as odd as it is disrespectful.” Even Borders’ mother has got beef with what feels like his breach of some kind of sanctity-of-life thing and, according to Borders, is “deeply horrified and offended by the idea.”
Snakes are tangled around the base of the skull, near the more reptilian/survival-oriented portion of the brain, with waves and streams.
But one look at the end product — the first called She, with a crown of flowers at the front, and near the back, where the skull is most rounded, two tigers, each with a nimbus of flowers — and you might be unburdened of the idea of death as something dreary. Or even undesirable.
The second, He, also sporting a crown of flowers, features lions with extended jaws and fiery manes. Snakes are tangled around the base of the skull, near the more reptilian/survival-oriented portion of the brain, with waves and streams. The male skull, Borders notes, had a badly fractured but healed cheekbone and was missing all of its teeth, the space where they had been smooth and weathered bone. “I’m thinking the person had quite a bit of physical pain in his life,” Borders says, “which informed the piece a bit. It certainly strengthened notions of fragility at least.”
This same sort of fragility marks Borders’ other work — and there is other work, paintings mostly — since the artifact is less of an issue for him than the artist. Leaving the artist in this case able to live off his art for the past three years, with two shows currently running: one in Portland, at the appropriately named Antler Gallery, and one in New Orleans’ French Quarter, at the Red Truck Gallery. Other pieces are scattered at other galleries, and with an unnamed but hinted at celebrity (rhymes with Bernardo DeBaprio) in talks to buy the skull set, Borders’ well-placed meditations on mortality appear to be gaining real purchase. “Yeah, me and the wife might even be able to procreate someday,” he says with a laugh.