American artist Jason Borders uses a simple Dremel rotary tool to turn creepy animal skulls into intricate works of art that sell for hundreds of dollars.
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Borders always had an interest in bones and started collecting them at a very young age. “I always had a little cabinet of curiosities in my room, and in the garage,” he says, but he didn’t start using them as a medium for his art until much later in his life. He always an artistic streak and used to take art classes at the Lexington Art League in his spare time. He later attended the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio, but only worked with traditional materials like clay and paper. That was until a few years ago when he discovered an elk carcass while driving through the desert.
“I loaded most of it in my Honda Civic,” he recalled. “I almost got arrested doing this.” He took the carcass home, cleaned it, and then took out a Dremel rotary grinding tool that he had received as a Christmas gift. “Looking at the Dremel and looking at the bones next to each other, I picked it up and started working on it. The garage was right underneath my house, and I ended up filling the house with dust, and made myself really sick and made my wife really angry. Then I did it for another four years, but I’m much more careful these days.”
Borders uses the Dremel tool to engrave his intricate designs – consisting of dots and lines – into the skulls, producing asymmetrical patterns that are reminiscent of paisley prints or traditional mehendi art. He then inks the patterns for contrast and applies a protective finish.
“I do not plan my designs. At all. I don’t think I would have the patience to finish anything if I did. Im convinced that youll get better results from sticking to a simple approach that incorporates randomization, improvisation, intuition, etc. than thorough planning,” the young artist says. “I always work in the same way, have the same approach. With bones, they may be similar in shape, but there are all different kinds you could imagine, and beyond that, there’s the density of the bone, how long it was left outside, the age of the animal when it died – they all affect the way I work and the way it looks in the end. It’s a nice way to enact different results. Nothing’s ever quite the same.”
As for procuring new bones, Borders calls himself an “opportunistic hunter” who is always on the lookout for his next canvas. “I will often go trade with local farmers, like do a couple hours work or trade them a small piece of art for a bunch of bones. I find them, I keep a bunch of trash bags in my car. I go out to the woods a lot. Nowadays though, I’m the bone guy. People bring me bones, a lot.”
As you can imagine, an unconventional medium like animal bone draws mixed reactions from people – right from “little old housewives who think they’re really disturbing” to “people closer to my age who are like, ‘Oh, that is so hard-core, bro.’”
“Those are the ones that actually irritate me the most, when people just see them as carved bones and aren’t actually paying attention to the art,” Borders says. For him, the creative process is much more than working with animal bones. “My work is a form of self-hypnosis. Its a way of turning off cognitive thought and simply reacting. Its very meditative. It is escapism, though in a certain sense, its a form of hyper-existence- of living purely in the moment. In this way the work becomes a method of overcoming fears.”
“That said, a large part of what I do involves a familiarization with death,” he writes on his website. “My belief is that, as painful as it can be, looking directly at death helps you to live your life with intent and purpose. In this light, the work I do delves into a place where the lines between life, death, fantasy and reality are blurred.”
Borders’s work has been displayed in art galleries across the US, most recently at the LA Art Show 2016, and also in London and Berlin. He has been featured in several art magazines, both print and online.
Photos © Jason Borders