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Why'd they do it?

Friends cite strange behavior in the final days of a golden couple.

July 25, 2007|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

It's been just eight days since rising art star Jeremy Blake was seen wandering into the ocean off New York's Rockaway Beach -- presumably to his death -- a week after he discovered that his blogger-filmmaker girlfriend, Theresa Duncan, had taken her life in their East Village apartment.

But the apparent double suicide of this glamorous, intellectual couple has confounded and disturbed the art world in New York, London and Los Angeles, where they lived together for several years. Many were shocked by the turn of events while others noted that the couple had acted strangely in their final months together.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, August 18, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part Page News Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Double suicide: An article in the July 25 Calendar section about the suicides of artist Jeremy Blake and writer Theresa Duncan reported that Duncan graduated from the University of Michigan. A spokesperson for the university said Duncan was enrolled for a single semester in 1985 at the University of Michigan-Flint.

According to several friends and art world peers, the two believed they were being stalked and harassed by Scientologists, an abiding fear that soured old friendships and made some of their respective working relationships difficult.

Christine Nichols, a colleague and friend of Blake's since 1998, produced two art exhibitions, two books and a record in conjunction with the artist through the New York art gallery she co-founded, Works on Paper Inc. Nichols dates the couple's rising sense of "paranoia" to around 2004, two years after Blake created an album cover for alternative-rock star Beck, who is a practicing Scientologist.

"They thought Scientologists were really harassing them," Nichols said. "They would say, 'They are following us, harassing our landlord.' I did not see any evidence of that.

"But it got to be something that was huge to them -- a 'You're either with us or against us' thing where if you didn't believe them, you weren't on their side. The story they had woven in paranoia and conspiracies took over part of their lives. A lot of us couldn't understand that acting out."

Two other art world sources corroborated Nichols' characterization but declined to speak on the record out of concern that Blake may still be alive.

Beck was unavailable for comment, but his manager, through a publicist, let it be known that things were "extremely cordial" between the singer and the artist the last time they talked three years ago.A spokesman said the New York Police Department was not investigating any involvement by the Church of Scientology. Karin Pouw, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, denied the allegations, saying, "Never heard of these people. This is completely untrue."

Puzzling turn of events

Duncan and Blake, who were together for 12 years, are recalled as an impossibly good-looking, intellectually vigorous and socially popular pair of soul mates who moved gracefully among a set of likewise brainy, moneyed people who occupy the intersection of art and technology on both coasts.

According to Lance Kinz, director of Kinz, Tillou and Feigen gallery in New York, which shows Blake's digital paintings and films, Duncan's suicide and Blake's disappearance have confounded many people.

"They were both highly ambitious and successful and had achieved a lot. They were energetic in their creative pursuits," Kinz said. "The biggest surprise is that Jeremy would sacrifice what he had worked so hard to achieve and had been so excited about.

"On the other hand, for those who did know Jeremy and Theresa, they were very close, seemingly very much in love and extremely close. One could assume the loss was too much to handle."

The couple had moved in February from Los Angeles back to New York, where Blake had accepted a job as an in-house graphic designer for video game manufacturer Rockstar Games. A source at Rockstar, who declined to be identified for fear of violating company policy, recalled the artist as someone who "looked like a rock star. He wore sunglasses indoors. Sometimes he sipped whiskey at work."

On July 10, the day she was found dead, Duncan, 40, posted a final blog entry, a two-sentence quotation from author Reynolds Price: "A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens -- second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter."

Blake, 35, was well on his way to bona fide star status with museums including Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collecting his work. Blake took part in three consecutive Whitney Biennial exhibitions from 2000 to 2004.

"He was a pioneer in so many ways," Kinz said. "His works weren't film and they weren't paintings. It wasn't computer art; it wasn't animation. And though it was painterly fine art, it was a hybrid of many things. In the future, I think he'll be considered a first explorer in a new territory of art making."

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