Artists Who Died in 2015 Get Immortalized in ‘Faces of Death’ Art Project
Chris Burden, Leonard Nimoy, and Cecil the Lion are among those honored.
As the year draws to a close, artnet News remembers those who died this year, including former Artforum editor Ingrid Sischy, lawn flamingo inventor Don Featherstone, Star Trek actor and photographer Leonard Nimoy, and performance artist Chris Burden. They are among the 87 celebrities immortalized on this year’s “Faces of Death” shirt, an annual art project in which anyone can contribute a drawing of someone who has passed away during the previous year.
There’s “a lot of herding of cats to get everyone organized together at the same time,” Brooklyn artist and organizer Michael Hambouz told artnet News of the 86-artist project in a phone call. Other belated figures on the shirt who have factored into artnet News headlines this year include Simpsons creator Sam Simon, actor Christopher Lee, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
“Faces of Death” was founded by Milton Carter in 1997, and first appeared in a music zine before transitioning to t-shirt form in 2002. Hambouz contributed a sketch of actor Ernest Borgnine in 2012 before taking the reins the following year. It’s really taken off since he started an Instagram account a couple years ago in order to share the drawings as he received them.
“I started getting requests from strangers who wanted to participate,” Hambouz recalled. “Just a couple of years ago there were only 30 artists on the shirt, and it’s almost tripled.”
“Faces of Death” is now an international affair, with contributors from all over the country, and from as far away as Kazakhstan and Japan.
Despite “the tongue in cheekiness of the title,” the project “is about celebrating and paying tribute,” said Hambouz. He keeps a running list throughout the year based on the obituary section of the New York Times, but contributing artists are free to make picks of their own—it would not have occurred to him, for instance, to include Cecil the Lion, but that turned out to be “a very sweet, heartwarming drawing.” Other featured celebrities include Twin Peaks “log lady” Catherine Coulson, and Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for Norman Rockwell‘s Rosie the Riveter.
One important aspect of “Faces of Death” is that anyone, no matter their artistic ability, is welcome to contribute. There are established artists who sell at galleries, like Maya Hayuk, as well as friends of Hambouz’s with no training who have “sheepishly asked” to take part.
“Oftentimes those who think that they can’t draw, draw the best drawings!” Hambouz insisted. “Everyone gets to mingle together… there’s no intimidation.”
“The Mary Ellen Mark is drawn by a photographer [Don Stahl] who never draws,” he added. “She was one of his idols and he wanted to pay tribute in whatever way he could.”
Each participant receives a free copy of the shirt (printed by sometimes-contributor Justin Tesa in Long Island City), either by mail or by picking one up at the opening event at Calico Gallery on December 12. Hambouz sells the rest for $20 each, just enough money to break even with a sell out. “There’s not any profit at the expense of anyone who has passed away,” he’s quick to point out.
See more “Faces of Death” drawings below:
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