Opening Saturday, June 12th, from 6PM - 10PM
On Saturday, May 9th, 2009, between 3-4pm, Nevin Thomlison, Undergraduate Administrative Director and Painting Instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) found a collection of paintings tied together with burlap rope in the back stair-well, a relatively unknown section of the 112 South Michigan Avenue campus building, only accessible from within the Undergraduate Advanced Painting Studios, as well as the numerous Graduate Studios located on the upper floors.
Nevin Thomlison, the man who has been said to secretly run the entire SAIC Painting Department single-handedly from his small, prison-like office cell in the bowels of the Columbus Building (280 South Columbus Drive) was making a routine check-up on a heating valve that had reportedly been “Making a hissing sound, like a small water hose,” bothering Students and Faculty alike, invading their private thoughts with small but consistent putterings of what sounded like, according to Thomlison, “water, spraying through a cement crack.”
The School had been shocked just three days earlier, when popular undergraduate student Justin B. Williams died while saving a small child on her way to her Wednesdays Kindergarten Class at Goethe Elementary School in Logan Square, a Northside Chicago neighborhood where Williams lived. The child, whose name has been withheld by her family, was crossing the street on Milwaukee Avenue near Maplewood. Williams, who had stopped at a laundry center across the street from the Congress Theatre to drop off some clothes, had reportedly told one of the friendly old Mexican ladies working there that he had to “Go outside,” and “maybe get something to drink.” Little did he know that this would be his last drink.
As he crossed Milwaukee Avenue, heading across the street passing Maplewood and into the parking lot, Williams saw three things. First, he saw the little girl, sitting on the pavement before the CVS parking lot exit tying her shoe. Second, he saw the unmistakable loud screeching noise visualized as the car wheels hit the cement. And third, he saw a dirty white SUV barreling through the parking lot, heading directly towards the child. Williams immediately began to run towards the little girl and dove into her, knocking her safely out of the way. The SUV collided into Williams’ body before he landed, knocking him fifteen feet backwards onto the other side of the street. Because the car was moving so fast, doctors later announced that he had died on impact. Other than the little girl herself (who doesn’t remember anything) there were no witnesses to the crime, and the driver promptly sped off. On Thursday, May 7th, the day after his death, a silent vigil was held for Williams in Grant Park, and students, friends, family, and faculty showed up in honor of the young artist.
Thomlison had come to the 112 South Michigan Avenue campus building to fix a broken heating valve, but he had instead stumbled across a collection of paintings produced by the deceased student, Justin B. Williams! Thomlison was shocked to see Williams’ indelible signature on the fronts and backs of each painting, thinking- “These have got to be Justin’s Last Paintings!”
Thomlison immediately rushed to a telephone booth so that he could call Williams’ mother Ana Williams, and Michael Thibault, director of MONUMENT 2 Gallery, Chicago. Thibault, Ana Williams and Thomlison immediately agreed during a conference-style conversation to show these last works for one night only before shipping the works off to the artists mother.