New Times / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 23, Issue 8
A palette full of color and a pocketful of stonesArtists say a lot about death - and life - from both sides of the grave
By ASHLEY SCHWELLENBACH
Momento mori: Remember that you are mortal. Consider the macabre theme our annual Autumn Arts edition not as a celebration of death, but as a reminder of vitality, a reminder that life, however brief, can be purposeful and well lived.
We look to our artists to comfort us in death because they so joyously and bravely express life. Any number of famous artists have bent their genius in the direction of the grave, some might argue to tame death, some to come to terms with its inescapable finality, and others still to declare war upon its claim upon them. Emily Dickinson turned her pen, comically and pensively, toward the final sleep. It is impossible to forget Anna Karenina’s desperate plunge beneath a train. Or to erase the mental image of Virginia Woolf wading into the River Ouse, her pockets filled with stones. And the poet John Berryman, who jumped from a bridge above the Mississippi River, waving to passersby during his journey downward, lending weight to his stated belief that "we must travel in the direction of our fear." Accounts of their lives and beliefs give the impression that the artist bears a social responsibility to entertain, enlighten, and question, a charge they wish to fulfill even in their manner of death. Artists can linger on this subject knowing they carry a special reprieve. Long after they gasp their final breath, society will bear the permanent imprints of their identities and personalities.
companions in death. Harmony True of Civic Ballet was the unfortunate victim of a rival dancer, her body conforming to its inclination towards ballet even in her final pose.
Similarly, actor John Battalino was poisoned by an envious fellow thespian hoping to acquire his role. Musician Jon Bartel, perhaps a little too swayed by a rock star lifestyle, was electrocuted during a gig. Filmmaker Ryan Johnson of New Rule Productions suffered an accident while filming in Avila Beach, though inquiries as to the cause of death have been narrowed only to drowning and some manner of bacterial infection from the water. And, lastly, Robert Frear, perhaps the most fortunate soul whose death in bed at the Sanitarium was witnessed only by his photographs above the bed.
There may be a perfect literary death, steeped in symbolism and meaning, for each person—as is the case for Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction. Or (worlds simpler and considerably less appealing) we may die in a completely arbitrary manner. All we can hope is that we leave behind something that speaks of our experience, the human experience.
As we learned during the course of the photo shoots, it takes a village to kill eight artists. Special thanks to the following organizations and individuals for collaborating for the sake of art alone: Kristina Kolkowski, Patrick Leonard, Heather McDermott, Anita Bohannon, Civic Ballet, the SLO Little Theatre, Forrestt Williams, the Sanitarium, and Cal Poly marching band members Katie Sisk, Rebecca Hennings, Emma Shaffer, Jeremy Zwang, and Nicole Olson who gamely shared in an evening of adventure and trespass to star in our cover photograph.
up in my poetry because I’m interested in exploring root themes of individual experience as they relate to and impact the human condition (also, the other way around: the impact of the human condition on the individual). That leaves death, birth, fear, love, sex, character and free will to choose from. And it is the most unifying theme of them all since everyone tries it at some point."
in life and serves a constant motivation to make the most
of the time we are given to perform our art."
Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach thinks that if you find death offensive, you’re not very in touch with life. Send howls of outrage to firstname.lastname@example.org.