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DEATH OF AN ARTIST
by Charlie Finch
 
Last Wednesday, after signing some papers at my attorney's office and listening to my attorney talking on the phone from Tibet, where he is on his way to consult with some monks, I decided, since it was such a fine spring day, to stroll down Park Avenue to the Yale Club for a quick glass of port and a nap in the library.

No sooner had I arrived, than two club employees announced that a body had been discovered in an airshaft, and a stunned silence ensued. A 43-year-old man had apparently taken his life by jumping from the 17th floor, his corpse unnoticed for 48 hours. I watched from the second-floor window, as the police removed the poor fellow's covered body. Here, in 1923, a drunk Scott Fitzgerald had announced to his wife Zelda that he was going to kill himself, leaped from the French windows and broken an ankle on Vanderbilt Avenue.

This dead man, named John Michelini, was not so lucky. The New York Daily News reported that he was a landscape artist from New Hampshire and that he had left a number of written prayers in his room. In 2006, he was in an advanced study program at Dartmouth, whose club has offices at the Yale Club, where he was using computers to create three-dimensional landscapes. A graduate of UC-Fresno, with an MFA from Berkeley, Mr. Michelini had also worked in Manhattan, in software, for a number of years. His family said that he had suffered from depression all his life.

There are no images of John Michelini's work in the Internet. A photo in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine reveals him to have been handsome, bearded and, at least in this one snapshot, apparently hopeful. Jules Romaine's 1912 novel The Death of a Nobody chronicles the quickly fading memories of those who survive a "bourgeois gentilhomme," who passes away one afternoon. The baker remembers, then a woman on a bus, then the landlady, then, soon enough, no one. How do you remember  someone you never knew and a body of art that vanished throughout his life as soon as he made it?

Art, apparently, can only do so much and it is never enough. John Michelini found the space between art and life, and he jumped.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).



 



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