Interviewsand Articles


Editor's Introduction w & c #30

by Richard Whittaker, Jun 23, 2015



Germán Herrera, Viejo con Perro [detail], 1988

The arrival of #30 brings some reflections on what began 25 years ago. I dived into publishing with no business plan, no backing, no mentors. I had a Mac Plus and an early version of Pagemaker. At a  meeting with artist friends I found myself pondering our chances in the artworld. Two or three of us (not me) had MFAs. None of us were wealthy or had good connections. “We need something besides our art work,” I said. “Something like a magazine.”
     “Why don’t you start one?” painter Dickson Schneider responded. And the next day I did.  
     The Secret Alameda #1 was a xeroxed affair, eighty hand-stapled copies. After eight issues, I felt a new title was needed. By “secret alameda” I meant to suggest the hidden life that can be an intimate experience for an artist. But too many locals were asking me about undiscovered restaurants.
     Titles and names are not so easy. It took four years before works & conversations #1 appeared. That was seventeen years ago. Many people tell me that each issue seems to get better. I’m not the best judge. I love each issue. But some things have changed. Ads were dropped even before the first issue. That was a breath of fresh air. And then, under the influence of meeting Nipun Mehta, all dollar signs disappeared. Now, each time I give away a copy of the magazine, it’s truly with no strings attached, a moment that’s perfectly unencumbered.
     Along the way, there have been special moments. It was an honor when artist Enrique Martínez Celaya allowed me to serialize his book, Guide. It’s one of the most meaningful books about art I’ve ever read. Then there was the day I got a subscription from Harvard, and the day I got an email from Paul Van Slambrouck offering his help pro bono now that he had retired as chief editor at the Christian Science Monitor. There was the day I got a request from the Kandinsky Library in Paris to swap subscriptions with Les Cahiers du Musee National d’Art Moderne, and the day I got a subscription from the Watson Library at the Met in New York City. Artist Jane Rosen’s consistent support from early on has been a blessing, and there have been many others. But the day-to-day heartfelt support I receive from readers remains the foundation that keeps this project going. I feel as though there is a family out there, most of whose members have not yet met. Maybe one of these days, I’ll figure out a way to facilitate some introductions.
     Although this issue stands as something of a milestone, it’s come together as all the others have. It’s as if I’m looking for a certain sound and when I hear it, I move closer to hear more clearly. Material begins to collect and then I start looking to see if a theme suggests itself. This time it’s “borderlands.” That term remained with me after talking with Diane Ullman and Donna Billick [Issue #27]. They use it when they talk about their art and science program at U.C. Davis. For me, the term evokes a space—inner or outer—that’s less subject to the limits that apply inside a bordered space. It can be a difficult place, but one of gestation.
     The idea came out of looking at our conversation with Chris Eckert. His work challenges us with questions from the borderlands between art, technology, religion and science. His work can be astonishing, not only because of its provocative intelligence, but because of the technical mastery he acquired as a design engineer and his impeccable craft.
     The work of Vaea Marx occupies a borderland in art history. He belongs to that small group of artists—like Peter Voulkos and John Mason—who brought the medium of clay into the realm of contemporary high art. And Vaea’s life itself is a study in crossing borders. A Frenchman, Vaea was born in Tahiti; joined the underground resistance as a teenager in France during WWII; traveled the world as a pastry chef for the Matson and President Lines; worked as a cowboy in the Austrialian Outback; lived in a monastery in Japan, and ended up here in the U.S.
     I met Gabriel Meyer thanks to an unexpected invitation to a private concert at the end of a Joanna Macy retreat. Meyer, I soon learned, is a master of crossing borders and penetrating the barriers that separate people of different nationalities. Song is his main tool for creating connections. And Gail Needleman returns to these pages with a beautiful essay on the connecting power of song.
     Discovering the photography of Germán Herrera was a special pleasure. I don’t think it’s going too far to characterize his work as an invitation into an ontological borderland. Herrera’s own questions, so eloquently communicated by his work, speak to all of us in this realm. And in "On Seeing" contributing editor Paul Van Slambrouck writes about an opening we so rarely experience—escaping our own invisible bubble to see what is right in front of us. Meanwhile Rue Harrison's "Indigo Animal," through a new friendship, enters the borderland between life today and an imagined world with links to an ancient past. Welcome. —RW

About the Author

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


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