Interviewsand Articles


From the Editor w&c #33: A Place to Stand

by Richard Whittaker, Jul 23, 2017



With a place to stand, one can stop and breathe. And look around. And as a metaphor, it’s even better. In that sense, a place to stand is perhaps like having climbed a mountain, or having arrived, after a struggle, where the main thing missing is found. We hold the need for such a place in common. These reflections come to mind in relation to the artists interviewed here. Although they differ in obvious ways, they share something akin to the search for a place to stand.
     Anita Wong, born in Beijing, moved to Hong Kong at three. She began her studies of brush painting at the age of five under a Lingnan-style Guo Hua master. With her mother’s support, she left Hong Kong at sixteen to study art and design at Central Saint Martins in London, later becoming an art professor for several years in the US. With her deep training in a traditional Chinese way of painting and an education in Western art and art history, she now searches for the bridge that can connect them both. It’s a particularly interesting problem because there seems to be little ground shared between contemporary Western views of art and traditional Eastern understandings. In issue #31 Ron Nakasone talked about his practice of calligraphy. He described this traditional discipline as a search for becoming human. It’s hard to imagine any Western approach to art being described this way, though individual exceptions may exist. Could any of the traditional values and practices exemplified by such Eastern art traditions resonate in our fast-paced, instant- delivery culture? It’s not easy to see how. And yet…
     I met artist Daniel Hunter almost forty years ago. We published some of his work in The Secret Alameda, the magazine that preceded this one. Although he’d gotten a master’s degree in sculpture at UCB, he was working in photography at the time. Earlier, he’d worked as art director for the influential, left-leaning magazine Ramparts. Like other talented artists I knew at the time, attention and sales were in scarce supply. To support himself, he ran a photo supply business out of his building in Oakland, which also served as his studio. Later, for over twenty years, he taught photography and ceramics at an Oakland high school. Now retired, he makes art full time with an integrity that has remained constant from the beginning. And what can be said about such integrity? Is it a place to stand?
     Artist Dickson Schneider is another talented artist I’ve known for a long time. Like Hunter, his journey exemplifies the challenges artists face. As with many artists, a teaching job provided support for his personal work—in Dickson’s case, teaching art at California State University East Bay. Over the years, Schneider has been prolific and has explored several directions, always with ingenuity and often with great humor. Seven years ago, in a surprising leap, he embarked on a radically new project: free art. Giving away art isn’t unusual among friends, but giving it away in public to strangers is quite another matter. Schneider isn’t the first to do this. I remember how shocked I was when Ehren Tool (issue #8) told me that he gives away the ceramic cups he makes. At that time, he’d given away a few thousand. By now, I’m sure the number is in the tens of thousands. But there aren’t many artists for whom the giving away of their work is a central part of it. What stands out most dramatically for me is what Schneider has to say about his experience: “It’s the most interesting, best art thing I’ve done.”
      What else? There’s “A Trip Out West.” How this piece came our way is interesting. In their Spring 2017 issue, Parabola reprinted “A Man Impossible to Classify,” by far the most widely read piece I’ve had anything to do with. David Feldman read it and was moved to contact me. It reminded him of his experiences on the West Coast in 1967. He’d written about them (and much more) in an informal autobiography for his daughter and, on an impulse, he sent me a copy. Reading it brought back a lot of memories, and David gave us permission to publish the excerpt.
     I met Tom Lorio eight years ago while visiting my brother and his wife in Baton Rouge and was charmed [issue #20]. Earlier this year I was back in Baton Rouge and paid Lorio another visit. I was charmed again, this time by the annealed copper cups you’ll see.
     Tim Rowan’s work came to my attention many years ago and, from time to time, I’d get to see a few of his pieces at Sandy Simon’s and Robert Brady’s (great) Trax Gallery in Berkeley. The raw, but elegant quality of his work struck me immediately. Much more can be seen on his website.
     We have another little gem from Ron Hobbs, whose work has appeared in a number of issues. And Indigo Animal’s exotic adventures continue unfolding in mysterious ways. —rw  

About the Author

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


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