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    Lawyer's art an antidote to terror

    Michael DeMinico aims to paint the faces of all those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 24, 2002


    TAMPA -- Michael DeMinico -- tortured artist, philosophizing attorney -- sits on a dusty green couch in his garage, hands cupping his weary eyes.

    It is here, where he used to park the black Jaguar, that DeMinico will undertake the most ambitious project of his life. He says he will cull photos from various databases of all the approximately 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and render their faces in oil on linen.

    "I am trying to bring some sort of order to the chaos that lodged in me about that time," says DeMinico, 50, who recently cut back his family law practice to under 20 hours a week in order to jump-start the project.

    The toll wrought by the terrorist hijackers is something DeMinico says he just can't get his mind around. Perhaps painting will help.

    "We have a statement by a group that says ideology supersedes the necessity" -- he stops mid sentence, sobs overtaking him -- "of you seeing your children again, or your wife again. I'm saying, it does not. . . . The overriding necessity and sacred nature of the individual is something we owe to the world to protect."

    DeMinico has the temperament of one who is always a bit harried. But these days, the father of two seems a bit crazed.

    It's clear why. "Budgeting about 60 hours of week, I think I can I finish this thing in three years," he says.

    He can't stop thinking of the daunting task he announced to the world this week in an ad he took out in the New York Times. It urged the families of victims to send photographs of their deceased loved ones to DeMinico's Web site if they didn't like those that ran in newspapers, which DeMinico would otherwise be replicating.

    But there is that maddening business about the Web site: It won't work. So he'll probably have to take out another $4,700 ad. A relief organization set up by New York Gov. George Pataki recently called about bringing DeMinico up to meet some of the families.

    "Oh, I'm just frazzled, man," DeMinico says into his home phone, which won't stop ringing with questions from trustees, his art conservator and Web site engineers.

    "It's daunting, but it's also wonderful," he says cheerfully, returning to the couch fully recovered from his earlier emotional outpouring. Being overtly sentimental is something the attorney has come to accept.

    "I do it in front of bankers, lawyers. It can be a bit uncomfortable," he says apologetically.

    For years, DeMinico has supplemented his income with commissions, mostly portraits. His massive portraiture project is being funded by benefactors, one of whom is talking about buying an apple orchard in New York to build a museum specifically designed to house the huge installation.

    DeMinico is busy dreaming up the blueprints for that, too, but so far he hasn't even had time to begin the portraits. That will start May 1, he says.

    "I do not mean this to be a funerary piece," he says. "I do mean it to be an affirmation of life."

    Like an attorney, he uses big words and isn't shy about expounding on, well, everything. He has a gift for free association: quantum mechanics, ancient masks, the mystic realm -- all somehow interrelate in his mind. He also possesses a dose of creative impracticality.

    "Interesting" is how his wife of 15 years, Susie, describes her husband's venture. She shoots him a stern look as she lights up a Marlboro Light in their roomy Beach Park home.

    "I'm a crab," she says. "I get overwhelmed by anything."

    "Susie's not happy about the garage," DeMinico says privately, referring to how he turned it into his personal studio for the project.

    His work hangs on walls around the house. Still lifes with deep red and purple accents. A portrait of Mrs. DeMinico, unframed, is haltingly seductive. He also paints dark and troubled abstracts with spiraling motifs. His "chaos paintings," he calls them.

    He has trouble describing his style. "A cross between abstract expressionism and photo realism," he says and shrugs.

    DeMinico discovered the artist within at the age of 7. He got an art degree, and a law degree from Tulane University. To DeMinico, lawyering is merely an experiment in living.

    "The quotidian is somewhat dowdy; nevertheless, it is actually the deepest experience of what is going on in the world," he says.

    And of course, it pays the bills. DeMinico says he will continue to practice law and do a few commissioned portraits to feed his children, ages 11 and 13.

    "My banker," he says, "told me to remember to exhale."

    -- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at 226-3383.

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