Above: Image from A Death: Remember series ©Phil Hansen

Phil Hansen is an internationally recognised multimedia artist, TED speaker, and partner of the Art Therapy Charity Initiative by .ART domains. Phil was the official artist for the 51st Grammy Award. We’re honoured to share Phil’s essay. 

I have always been someone who is drawn to the allure of discomfort, this is even true when it comes to the topic of death. The idea of someone no longer being present in their body used to freak me out, but I knew that by facing my unease head-on, things would eventually improve.

When I was younger and training to be an x-ray technician, I worked at a hospital in Bellevue, Washington as a patient transporter. This job entailed simply pushing patients from their rooms to their appointments. The work was relaxing, I learned a lot about healthcare, and even pushed a few famous people around. During this time, I discovered that I could work on the team in charge of the morgue. I applied and got the job, which was my first experience being around the dead. This also introduced me to local funeral homes, as they would come to the hospital to pick up the deceased. I applied for and got a funeral home job as well, where I was on call to pick up people who had died outside of normal working hours. Over time, my discomfort with death quieted and I eventually graduated and moved on, but my time at the funeral home remained an important experience in my past.

Years later, I found myself in a mindset of embracing limitations with a creative and artistic angle. So, when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, I again found myself in an uneasy confrontation with death, but this time I wanted to know how others had experienced loss. I decided to create an artwork involving other people’s memories and stories about a death they remembered.

It was a consuming, exhausting, and soul-opening experience…From it, I gained a deeper understanding of how others experienced loss that I still struggle to express.

Image from A Death: Remember series ©Phil Hansen

Working with text had been a point of exploration for me for many years. I always loved pointillism and saw text as bigger dots on the canvas. Eventually, I developed a method of spacing the letters to create different shades and periodically used people’s stories to create art. I saw it as a way to express ideas beyond words. After weeks of planning, the project launched, and I began writing stories. It took 10 days and over 100 hours of writing. It was a consuming, exhausting, and soul-opening experience. The stories people shared were quite varied, as you might imagine. From it, I gained a deeper understanding of how others experienced loss that I still struggle to express. In many ways I hope I will always struggle as I don’t believe it’s an experience that can be completely captured in words. My mother even shared a story, which captured her appreciation of life and focus on the time spent together with someone rather than the time missed.

Since her passing, I’ve thought more about this project and expanded it into a series, the last of which will be completed this year (2023). I’ve found that exploring life’s challenges through art is therapeutic. I believe art is the oldest method of processing the world around us because it is innate and allows us to express emotions and ideas that transcend words, and sometimes even our own understanding. I am thankful to have it in my life.

As a .ART partner, Phil Hansen’s advocacy embodies the spirit of the Art Therapy Initiative championed by .ART. This initiative is a testament to .ART’s commitment to not just bridging the gap between art and technology but also to fostering healing and transformation through creative expression. By allocating a portion of revenue from .ART domain sales to support an endowment for graduate fellowships in the Art Therapy Program at George Washington University, .ART is taking a significant step towards promoting the therapeutic benefits of art.