Interviewsand Articles


From the Editor w&c #11: Cowboy Arts

by Richard Whittaker, Nov 2, 2005



The contents of issue #11 may come as a surprise to our readers, not because of our interview with Nathan Oliveira, but because we have cowboys here. With regard to Oliveira, little need be said to those who know his work or, better still, know the artist himself. To those for whom our interview will be an introduction, I can say the sense of the artist’s integrity and substance, which comes through in the interview, is only deepened when meeting the man in person. His painting reproduced on the front cover [slightly cropped] exemplifies how at times, almost miraculously, something takes up residence in paint and suddenly comes to life. The painter’s marks “take on credibility” as Oliveira would say, that elusive quality so seldom met, a quality that reminds us why we keep going back to art with a kind of hope.
     I struggled to find a phrase that might work as a theme for our apparently disparate content, because we do have cowboys: Jim Brooks and Doug Groves. We have ranch culture, rawhide braiding, cowboy poetry and song, horses and saddlemaking. And as different as these seem to be from the paintings of Nathan Oliveira and some of the other material in this issue, nevertheless, underneath I came to feel there are connections. Oliveira says, “I believe in a kind of fundamental man…” He also spoke of his childhood experiences growing up among apricot orchards. “Nature” came to mind. Ranch life. The close relationship with animals. But the word alone is just an empty place holder. “Lost and Found” could have worked, or “Past and Present,” too. How many of us realize cowboys still exist and live a life not yet completely disconnected from its ancient past? But my efforts to find a felicitous phrase for this issue came up short. The words were flat, whereas the material is not. The material in this issue, were it to be designated in a couple of words, would require words of actual power because the things touched upon go deep. As it happened I ran across just such suitable words in a collection of C.G. Jung’s writings:  “Civilized man is in danger of losing all contact with the world of instinct, a danger that is still further increased by his living an urban existence in what seems to be a purely man-made environment.” He also says, “it is the body, the feeling, the instincts which connect us with the soil. If you give up the past, you naturally detach from the past; you lose your roots in the soil.” He also pointed out that “the life of instinct, always the most conservative element in man, always expresses itself in traditional usages.” The words seem appropriate for issue #11.
     I did not have Jung in mind when I talked with Jim Brooks or with Doug Groves, the two cowboys interviewed, but listening to what Brooks and Groves say happens to bring Jung’s words to life. It was a rare treat meeting them both, and I’ll leave the surprises in these delightful interviews for the reader to discover.
     The cowboy arts material, by which I mean all the material related to the ranch/cowboy ethos, owes its presence here to my friends Jan and Andy Boyer, who talked me into visiting Elko, Nevada last January to attend the city’s twenty-first Cowboy Poetry Gathering. I’ve written about some of my reflections and memorable experiences in those few days, but not included was how I found myself one afternoon at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko looking at an exhibit of photography by Adam Jahiel. Jahiel’s photos are simply luminous, and I knew right away I wanted them in the magazine. Jahiel was gracious enough to allow this. The image on the inside front page is an example of his work with the warm tone intact, but even though the warmth is lost in the inside reproductions, still the beauty of the images remains. While looking at them more of Jung’s words came to mind. Due to our remoteness from nature, he writes, “animals have lost their numinosity.” Looking at the photo to the left as well others of Jahiel’s photographs, one may get a sense of the meaning of this phrase of Jung’s, the numinosity of animals.
     Included also is a small portfolio of photographs by Charles Reilly, who lives in Berkeley. I think these speak for themselves. At the last minute, I discovered Michael Light’s meditation on nuclear weapons, a collection of government photos of US nuclear tests. It had to be included, but our two pages here open only a small window. And of course, there is Indigo Animal. Rue Harrison’s second book is now in print [in color]. Books one and two comprise an ongoing narrative [a third will follow] which anyone who relates to this animal would surely love having.
     Finally many of you will notice a design change on the cover. From the very beginning it has always bothered me hearing people say “works plus conversations.” But who could blame them? The plus sign doesn’t look much like an ampersand. But the “plus” always cut a nice figure graphically. Nevertheless, our name has always been "works and conversations," and now we can prove it with an ampersand we like. But the “plus” couldn’t leave our cover all at once, so we’ve given it another job, at least for this issue.

About the Author

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


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