What: “The Dead Poets” art exhibit, by Nicola Carpinelli, and Suicide Thought-Leadership Discussion

When: Opening and panel discussion 7 p.m. Sept. 10; Carpinelli’s exhibit will display through Sept. 24, possibly longer

Where: Peterson Roth Gallery, 206 NW Oregon Ave., No. 1, downtown Bend

Cost: Free admission; attendees encouraged to RSVP

Contact: 541-633-7148

These days, Bend artist Nicola Carpinelli wakes up beaming from ear to ear and eager to paint — a far cry from the times he harbored suicidal thoughts due to two divorces, depression and alcohol and substance abuse.

Carpinelli, 53, wants to help others battling their own issues, and he’s doing it through the lens of art.

On Sept. 10, Peterson Roth Gallery in downtown Bend will host the opening of Carpinelli’s “The Dead Poets,” a cycle of paintings of creative people lost to suicide, including author Ernest Hemingway, his granddaughter Margaux Hemingway and Kurt Cobain. He’s also painted not-so-famous people, including a 15-year-old named Genevieve Vargas, who took her life last year.

Carpinelli described his descent to bottom about 14 years ago as “tightening the noose around my neck little by little, the things I was doing wrong,” he said.

At the time, he ran a Seattle gallery, but his club-going and partying sometimes led to spending the night in the city instead of going home to his family on Bainbridge Island. His then-wife, mother of the younger two of his five children, begged for her husband to come home.

There was a great month around Christmas when he’d gotten clean — and then his uncle committed suicide.

“And I started using again,” he said. A few months later, he decided to spend a week in rehab. Three days into his stay, his wife called to say she was leaving him. He gets emotional talking about her.

“I still do miss her. What a beautiful person,” he said. “I wish I could go back and choke that guy, shake him and go, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I had it all. If there was ever the term having your cake and eating it too, that was the time.”

In the wake of her departure, Carpinelli fell into depression and considered suicide. In 2006, he closed the gallery and stopped painting.

“That was it. No more painting. Painting is a reflection of yourself. And I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t look at myself physically in the mirror,” he said.

Cleaning up, helping others

Getting clean would take him a few more years. “Because I didn’t quite understand what getting clean was,” he said. Even if he was having some wine, “Wine turned into whiskey. And then whiskey said, ‘Let’s get an 8 ball.’”

Over time, as he gained more knowledge and insight into himself, he began to figure out a path to sobriety.

“I did a personal inventory of myself,” he said. “Between the help of therapists and the grace of God — and God’s grace is good — I had a supernatural experience, let’s just say, with God. I had a change of heart, and that’s kind of where … I couldn’t put the poisons in my body anymore.”

Panel and more

The timing of the show is intentional: September is Suicide Prevention Month, and Sept. 10 is World Suicide Awareness Day. At 7 p.m., a panel will convene at the gallery for a discussion on suicide prevention. The lineup is being finalized, but California psychotherapist Howard Asher and actress and author Mariel Hemingway have committed, according to Carpinelli and gallery director Ken Roth. Hemingway is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway and sister to Margaux Hemingway. Known for acting roles in “Manhattan” and other projects, Mariel Hemingway appeared in the 2013 TV documentary “Running from Crazy,” about the Hemingway family’s history of mental illness and suicide, and has written two memoirs, including 2015’s “Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide in My Family.”

The gallery space is small, and an RSVP for the panel discussion is recommended. To accommodate any overflow, they are considering a big-screen TV on the sidewalk above the underground space.

“We’re still working out the itinerary, but (it will be) an hour, tops,” Roth said of the panel. “We don’t want the whole night to get taken up with that. We want to give people a chance to come in and view the artwork.”

Inspired to paint

Carpinelli, also a seasoned musician, has called many places home. He spent time during his childhood in California and London, England, growing up, and as an adult has lived in Los Angeles; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Seattle and Portland. He moved to Bend two years ago after visiting to play music with a friend here.

Like Mariel Hemingway, Carpinelli’s life has been informed by a history of suicides in the family. In addition to his uncle, his great-grandfather committed suicide.

But it was the death of chef, writer and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, who hanged himself at 61 in June 2018, that inspired the artist to pick up a brush and paint Bourdain’s portrait.

Ken Roth, director of the nearly 3-year-old gallery, said he met Carpinelli around that time.

“It wasn’t intended to be a show, at all,” Carpinelli said. “These are the first paintings I painted in 10 years, mind you.”

“It started as just my sadness over Anthony Bourdain. I had to express it. I had to put it down, and Anthony, I just related to him. … The guy was just Miles Davis cool. I just had a personal connection. Same with Chris Cornell, too. That was the second painting.”

“There was something about those guys that was so vital and intelligent, and they had a message to say. They really impacted my life with (Cornell’s) lyrics and the things Bourdain spoke about.”

The theme of the Carpinelli exhibit is important to Roth. Back during the years when he taught art at Mountain View High School, “I had a lot of kids that were kind of hovering around school, whether or not to stay in or drop out. I saw a lot of troubled students, and there were a couple of kids that committed suicide over the years,” he said. “I heard post-graduation of a couple of my ex-students who had taken their lives in college or life beyond high school.”

When Carpinelli and Roth spoke to GO! last week, the artist wore a white button-down shirt with a loose tie, his pants speckled with paint. He brought to-go coffees and pastries to Peterson Roth, crediting the pastries to hunger pangs. It had been a late night. With a couple of more paintings to go before the show, he’d painted late into the evening prior.

“I almost fell asleep with the brush in my hand,” he said.

He’d been working on a painting of INXS singer Michael Hutchence, who hanged himself in 1997, and his partner, Paula Yates, who overdosed three years later.

“I already have the title. It’s ‘Never Tear us Apart,’” Carpinelli said, referencing an INXS song title. “I love that dude. He was, like, the sexiest dude.”

Carpinelli credited Hutchence and INXS for changing his young life.

“I was 14 years old in London back in 1979. This is the height of the punk rock movement,” he said. “I loved it. I was like, ‘Finally! This is my look.’ So I came back to California, and I was just so different from the beach town I was in, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe area. Kids picked on me like crazy. But then MTV happened.”

Hutchence and INXS were among the early acts on the one-time music channel. He remembers the lithe swagger of Hutchence in the video for “The One Thing.”

“Now all of a sudden, the kids that used to beat up on me are like, ‘Dude! You’re cool, man!’, Carpinelli said. “So it changed my life back then.”

Carpinelli hopes the show and the panel might connect with someone facing her or his own personal struggles. “If we save two people — one person — we save the world,” he said. As for his own emotional state, “Every day is a gift. I don’t have those thoughts anymore.

“I know that there was a reason why I went through these things. It’s so that we can maybe be a beacon of light and hope,” Carpinelli said. “I’m not saying I know the solution to this issue. I’m saying we need to talk about this issue.”

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