— A tragic scene unfolded Monday in the small park adjacent to The Free Press building on Second Street.
Chatting with good friend and colleague Dan Linehan, we lit upon a tender grackle, no more than a few weeks old. Apparently, the youngster had fallen from the nest and, too weak yet to fly, was confined to the tuft of grass on which he landed. Its parents cackled and hovered but could do little else.
The pitiful creature was gone by morning.
Even in southern Minnesota, where we enjoy relative remove from great calamity, where non-lethal crimes still make the front page of the newspaper and where (like good Americans) we remove death to the polite arm’s distance of hospital rooms and assisted-living facilities, the Big Sleep is no less present.
For some reason, I seek out such themes in art. And artists are happy to oblige. As Salvador Dali said, “The desire to survive and the fear of death are artistic sentiments.” Such sentiments appear wherever there are artists -- and southern Minnesota is no exception.
In Jeremy Osborne’s colored pencil work titled “Awake,” the young child is a picture of vibrancy. Her ruddy cheeks seem kissed into bloom by the angels themselves. She is on the cusp of her potential.
And yet, the St. Peter artist portrays her with eyes closed as she smells a wildflower. Somehow, her young mind has grasped that this moment of youthful discovery is to be treasured and savored, for youth itself -- like the cherubic red stain of her cheeks -- is fleeting.
Or, take “Winter Sun -- Seagull Lake” by Sleepy Eye painter Leo Derkowski. In his acrylic, Derkowski places the viewer before an expanse of blinding, white snow. Beyond the expanse, a line of pine trees offer the scene’s only solace.
The sweeping movement of the snow across the painting seems to broaden the distance and numb the mind’s motivation for movement. The viewer is transfixed, frozen, in the expanse and separated from the living.
In neither work is death portrayed directly. Rather, it lurks in the subterranean layers of the art, beneath the images on the canvas, beneath even the coats of acrylic and colored pencil. It resides in the artist’s own association with death, with the artist’s own mortality. Death, it seems, is waiting in the studio when the artist arrives.
What remains, then, is to bring death to life.