Interviewsand Articles


Flowers from the Sky: Editor's Introduction w&c #31

by R. Whittaker, Feb 9, 2016



     It’s been a long time since we haven’t gotten two issues out in a year. Part of the delay had to do with a visit to Southern India. The drawing on the table of contents page was made by a woman, Deepa, who works at Vaidyagrama where I spent three weeks for an Ayurvedic panchakarma. Watching Deepa’s surehandness with pinches of rice flour made me appreciate her drawings all the more. Traditionally such drawings protect a home and also keep the ants out since they’re drawn to eating the rice flour.
     But to matters at hand, issue #31.
     I knew Peter Doebler intended to do an interview with Professor Ron Nakasone, but didn’t know when it would be done. And I’d talked with Linda Connor about an interview, but we hadn’t set a date. Then I got a call from a stranger, Naim Farhat. Perhaps we could get together for lunch, he suggested.
     Each issue is an adventure, and this one was no different. Naim had gotten my number from painter Erik d’Azevedo [issue #9]. Although Naim is the founder of the Farhat Art Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arab Art, he has an eye for all kinds of visual art. Would I take a look at some of the U.S. artists he represents? It’s how I came across the work of Brenda Louie. After that, things began to take shape and the content of our new issue will, I think you’ll agree, compensate for the delay.
     Talking with Brenda at her studio, I was curious about her recent paintings, a series she calls Flowers from the Sky.
     “Why that title?” I asked.
     Her explanation led to our theme. I was struck by how thin the cloud of associations is around her phrase. It’s like a piece of wilderness in that sense. What Louie wishes to convey is the descent of gifts from above for all without discrimination—as with rain or sunlight.
     It’s a lovely metaphor for a hidden level an artist might hope to contact. But how often do we encounter a piece of art that touches us this way, that awakens us to something beyond our ordinary getting and doing? Certainly it’s the territory Linda Connor seeks in her photography, and it’s also at the heart of the Japanese art of sho that calligrapher and professor Ron Nakasone talks about so eloquently. So it wasn’t hard to embrace Louie’s phrase as our theme.
     Thanks to the richness of the text that came our way, in this issue we have no portfolios. But we do have plenty to look at.
     Art writer and curator DeWitt Cheng and Jerry Barish, artist and director of the Sanchez Art Center, introduced me to the work of Bay Area surrealist Arthur Bell. As DeWitt writes, Bell exhibited in the 1970s and ’80s and then more or less disappeared. Upon first seeing Bell’s work Cheng was startled. “Who is this brilliantly funny, weird artist?” he wondered.
     Because he was so taken with Bell’s work, he reached out to the artist who was confined in very poor health at Laguna Honda hospital.
     When I saw Bell’s work a couple of years later at the Sanchez Art Center, I was mesmerized as well. The artist, who had suffered a couple of strokes, was now living at an assisted-living facility in San Francisco.DeWitt suggested we pay him a visit.
     “Do you think we could interview him?” I asked.
     DeWitt wasn’t sure because of the effects of the strokes. “But we could try,” he said.
     I’ve included an excerpt of our conversation along with excerpts from a couple of DeWitt’s essays on Bell’s work. Cheng also provided images of Bell’s work.
     Not too long ago, artist Ladislav Hanka sent me a copy of his lovingly produced book, In Pursuit of Birds. The drawings and essays are a fine record of the arist’s decades-long acquiesence to having fallen under the spell of birds.
     The adventures of Indigo Animal continue, author Rue Harrison having actually traveled to Egypt earlier in the year to check up on the new developments in her story.
     And the final piece fell into place when Enrique Martínez Celaya gave us permission to excerpt a number of quotes from his new book, On Art and Mindfulness. —RW

About the Author

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


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