Interviewsand Articles


Editor's Introduction: works & conversations #2

by Richard Whittaker, May 12, 1999



     Not long ago, returning from Flagstaff, Arizona I left the interstate to explore a little road that looked interesting. After a few miles, I came to a sign warning that the road ahead had been washed out. I drove on anyway as the morning was so clear and bright and the spring grasses on the hillsides so green, and I was curious to see the washout. When I got there I saw there was room, just barely, to squeeze the car around the gap where road had fallen away. No one was around and I couldn't resist. Easing past, I pulled off the road on the far side of the washout and parked where I had the world to myself.
     Stepping out of my car I was surprised to find myself in the middle of some great hallelujah chorus. Were these meadowlarks? I couldn't say, but allusions from English Literature classes long past suddenly returned. So this must be what those poets had been talking about! And yes, their songs did climb up into the sky.
     At times something akin to this is evoked by certain artists, or a particular work of art. Relying on the written word, one might mistake something dead for something alive. Artists are always facing this difficulty, both in themselves and in the struggle to craft a work that has a kind of charmed potency. Our worlds are made up of the endless play of fragments of all kinds. And mostly, it's the unnoticed fabric of ordinary life. But there are those moments when something lifts one out of this sleepy web. Then we raise our heads and can see. True, what we see is not always a comfort, yet there can be a particular joy in a moment of sudden presence. 
     The phrase, "one sees the light" comes to mind, a perfect metaphor. And suddenly, to see the light, literally, would indeed stop the flow of these automatic processes and propel one into a new state. That moment, no matter how many times it may have occurred, is always new. 
     The thought leads directly to our interview with James Turrell. His remarkable work has touched thousands and thousands of people in this way—and his material is light. Turrell's project at Roden Crater, now some twenty-five years in the making, is nearing the completion of the first of its three phases. It's scheduled to open to the public next summer. For those who don't know Turrell's work this interview will be a good introduction; and for those who do, it will be a welcome opportunity to visit this very special artist again.
     It seems fitting that in this issue we have a number of pieces that touch on seeing. Good photography, by its very nature, involves seeing in ways that go beyond our ordinary ways of looking. The photos by Tim Goodman and one by Nicholas Hlobeczy, who studied with Minor White, are great examples.  
    We have a transcript of a day in Jane Rosen's Art12 class at U.C. Berkeley. She's putting together material for a new book on drawing—and it's all about seeing. 
     Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an art gallery guard? Juan Rodriquez writes about his time at the Met. "What is the difference between staring and seeing?" is one of the questions that came to life for him as he stood watch over the art month after month. And what about touching the art? Playwright and poet Kathleen Cramer digs into that in I Touch Art and shares a careful look at seven sunsets
     Rounding out our second issue is a conversation with Bay Area artist, Jim Campbell, a double graduate of M.I.T. When not making electronic art, he works as an engineer in cutting-edge digital technology. Early on his work was recognized by the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and last August he was given a retrospective at the San Jose Museum of Art. Campbell is one of the most deeply thoughtful artists we've met. 
     Welcome to our second issue. -rw

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.


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