WEST HOLLYWOOD, California (CNN) — The painting is called “Coma.”
It depicts an unconscious patient being slowly pulled into the mouth of a macabre death mask. Helpless. The death’s head resembles the opening of a CAT scan machine, a symbol of modern medical technology.
It is the work of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the man who bore the notorious nickname “Dr. Death.” He was a passionate advocate for allowing certain people to choose the time and manner of their own death. He claimed to have assisted in the suicides for more than 130 patients over a period of nearly 20 years.
Kevorkian’s career ended in 1999 with his conviction on charges of second degree murder for administering a lethal injection to a patient who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. He spent eight years in prison.
Most people though don’t realize that Kevorkian was also a longtime painter. Eleven of his works of art are on display this month in a trendy West Hollywood art gallery.
“He was a talented amateur,” curator Lee Bowers told CNN. “He painted throughout much of his life.”
All 11 paintings are available for purchase. The asking price is as much as $45,000 per canvas, Bowers said. Proceeds go to the estate and the gallery, and the paintings that don’t sell are headed to the Smithsonian, Bowers said.
The exhibition also includes the assisted suicide machine that Kevorkian designed and built, the “Thanatron.” The contraption helped inject a series of drugs into terminal and incapacitated patients who wished to end their lives.
It too is for sale to the highest bidder, at a starting price of $25,000.
Despite the attention surrounding the macabre suicide machine, the paintings comprise the heart of the show.
“Paralysis” is typical of the series of paintings that depict some aspect of disease and human suffering. The painting presents an image of a naked man crouched in a claustrophobic prison. Half his body has been turned to stone. His limbs are crumbling and useless. His brain has been removed and shackled, his body unable to respond to its commands.
Other paintings comment satirically on what Kevorkian viewed as the hypocrisy of the medical code of ethics. He once called efforts to prosecute him “a political lynching, engineered by the Inquisition.”
Portraits of Kevorkian’s parents and one of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach reflect an homage to those who influenced his life.
Efforts to sell the paintings following Kevorkian’s death in 2011 were hampered by a legal dispute over their ownership. For many years, they were housed in the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Boston. After his death, the Kevorkian estate claimed the art work was only on loan to the museum.
The dispute was resolved with the museum retaining four of his works. Kevorkian’s niece is now offering the paintings in her possession for sale at Gallerie Sparta.
Kevorkian told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta in 2010 that serving eight years in prison had not changed his view of assisted suicide.
“It’s a medical service,” Kevorkian stated, “It’s not political. It’s not religious.”
Are his paintings great art? Well, that is in the eye of the beholder. But they continue to speak to Dr. Kevorkian’s battle against the medical and legal establishment. A battle that continues, even in death.
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