Obituary: Jean-Michel Cornu de Lenclos

 | Wed 17 Sep 2014 23:02 ICT

CityNews – French artist and writer Jean-Michel Cornu de Lenclos, a well-known and popular former resident of Chiang Mai, has died at the age of 58.
His longtime partner, Véronik Ferry, confirmed to CityNews that he committed suicide in Cambodia on August 1, though she declined to say how.

He started his life in Asia and chose to finish the journey in Asia, she said in an email from France, adding that he “was a man of great talent in painting, design, writing, anthropology and photography”.

Cornu de Lenclos was born in 1956 in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, where his father was a French aviator. He was raised in France, and was interested in literature and the arts from a young age.

Against his father’s wishes he left military college to study fine arts, including a year in Kyoto, Japan, where he developed a deep interest in Zen Buddhist painting and calligraphy.

In the 1980s he ran a design studio in Paris, working for famous international brands and winning many awards, before moving to the south of France and becoming a publisher.

A self-confessed eccentric, Cornu de Lenclos loved travelling and spent much time in Ethiopia researching the life of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. He settled in Thailand in early 2012 to write a book about his research, and lived with an Ethiopian novelist and journalist, Senedu Abebe, who studied Thai at Chiang Mai University. She now lives in the USA.

While here, he collaborated with architects and designers on a project called The Green House, which he said would be “not just a design centre but a crossroads of creative ideas, an inspirational place devoted to creative minds from all different fields”.

Cornu de Lenclos moved to the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville last year.

“We created, worked and lived together for 20 years, and after that we continued to work and communicate from all the countries he has been living in. We shared 37 years of creative and intellectual complicity,” said Ferry.

“He was not depressive. He used to say his life had been beautiful and he did not want to age, with the problems of disease and so on.”

He was in good health and used to swim, cycle and lift weights, she said.

“He was like a young man for a lot of things. The only thing we can be sure is that we will never know the personal and exact meaning of such a decision. The day before he was talking with me on Skype, and we laughed together. I did not guess the horrible decision he had taken.”

Friends of Cornu de Lenclos say they were devastated by his death, and have paid tribute to him.

“Jean-Michel was one of the most joyful people I have ever encountered while living in this part of Asia,” British author Lawrence Osborne, who is based in Bangkok, told CityNews. “He seemed like a character from another age with his effortless elegance, his vast erudition and refined intelligence. I never failed to not only enjoy his company but to take something precious away from our conversations.

“He was unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He had a childish, mischievous sense of humour which was combined with a kind of tolerant seriousness which only a man fully aware of life’s unknowable and tragic nature can possess. I can’t fathom what his last hours were about, I feel just the sadness of losing such a person – and the knowledge that I will never again sit around the table with him and laugh ourselves hoarse.”