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Virginia Woolf (author)
Jim Morrison (musician)
Sylvia Plath (poet)
Ernest Hemingway (author)
Liberace (not a suicide)
Poodle (ditto)
Anne Sexton (poet)
Arshile Gorky (painter)
Tina Mion (still with us)
George Eastman (businessman scientist)

Jimi Hendrix (musician)
Bobby Kielt (entrepreneur)

Marilyn Monroe (actress)
Kurt Cobain (musician)
Charley Parker (musician)
Sid Vicious
Diane Arbus (photographer)
Young girl with birthday cake
Billie Holiday (musician)
Judy Garland (with a necklace of pills)

Mark Rothko (painter)
Gordon Pond (artist)
Waiters
No Exit

 

Click a face or name in the guest list for details.

In the summer of 2003, I was feeling out of step with the art world, so I decided to throw a party to lift my spirits. The guest list and seating chart were rewritten all summer. By autumn, I began to paint, and the guests began arriving, all of them suicides except for Liberace. As the festivities got underway, I ran about nightly like a frazzled hostess until I finally threw up my hands and let people seat themselves. Some guests were no-shows and others arrived unexpectedly. The party took on a life of its own. No longer the master of ceremonies, I took a seat among the revelers — that’s me blowing a noisemaker.

Early in the 14th century, Dante Alighieri placed suicides in the second lowest level of his Inferno. Many major religions likewise condemned suicides to hell; my feeling is that this only adds to this pain of the families and shuts the topic behind closed doors. By taking an empathetic view of suicide, I chose to herald them into purgatory, and throw them a New Years party. Since a suicide defined the end of each guest’s time on earth, a party that marks the passage of time seemed somehow relevant. The guests bear the reminders of their final act: Sylvia Plath wearing potholders, Arshile Gorky with a noose necktie. This painting shows celebrities, friends, and people I knew. Liberace did not commit suicide but loved a party, especially one with so many interesting people, so he is visiting from heaven. One of his poodles sits on his lap, thus answering the question, “Do dogs have souls?” I’ve included all kinds of suicide: death by substance abuse, unbearable grief, a sudden deadly depression, a rational end to pain, a loss of hope, overwhelming loneliness. I do not condone suicide, but it has touched all our lives, mostly in silence. It is so prevalent in our society that it deserves to be depicted and discussed.

I hope this painting helps.

Follow-up: Since completing this painting, I have met with and received letters from many parents of suicide. —TM

 

Tina Mion Sylvia Plath Bobby Kielt Jimi Hendrix Charley Parker Virginia Woolf Jim Morrison Ernest Hemingway Liberace Anne Sexton Sid Vicious Diane Arbus Arshile Gorky Billie Holiday Young girl with cake George Eastman Poodle Judy Garland Gordon Pond No Exit Waiters Marilyn Monroe Kurt Cobain