Character profile

Studying the art of living: Album cover creator paints life with no facade


In 2005, Michael Mendel, an accomplished graphic artist who had designed hundreds of famous album covers for Columbia Records and other companies, took out a personal ad in The New York Times.

“Unemployed and poor old bearded Jew looking for savior,” the ad read.

Most of the dates with the women who responded ended in failure, he recalls, including one interesting first date with a Russian woman who took him to an East Village haunt to see “a show” of the transgender strip variety.

Mr. Mendel, then in his early 70s, had just been divorced from his wife. But since he had no place to go — unemployed after closing the doors on his graphic design studio — he continued to live with her.

This was one of the low points in a few low years for Mr. Mendel.

His father cut him out of an inheritance (the money went to the housekeepers), he said. He tried to make a living as an antique dealer, but said his car, filled to the brim with $70,000 worth of antiques, was stolen in Queens when he stopped to visit a friend on the way to an antique show in Long Island.

By 2008, he was still at the bottom.

So he took out another ad in the personal section of The New York Times.

“Still crazy after all these years,” the ad read, spaced out nicely so the letters had room to breathe on the page.

After sifting through the Paul Simon fanatics who responded to it, he found Barbara Della Femina, the only respondent that didn’t mind that he was still living with his ex-wife. The two hit it off and he moved into her apartment in Spuyten Duyvil.

Not long before he met Ms. Della Femina, at his lowest, he started painting. He had no formal training in paint (though he had taken some drawing classes in college) and hadn’t painted anything since he was a teenager, but he decided to give it a shot.

“I picked up a brush and I started to paint. I don’t know why, I wish I could give you the answer,” he said in an interview in Ms. Della Femina’s apartment on Knolls Crescent.

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