CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 3/5/2016
"Publisher David Chickey launched nonprofit Radius Books in Santa Fe so he could keep the profile small—and produce art monographs that prioritize inventive design." Read more from the profile in this weekend's Wall Street Journal Magazine below!
Chickey in the living room of his Santa Fe home, with his dogs (from left) Lola, Jasper and Otis. Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Yellow Bar’ (2007) hangs over the fireplace. PHOTO: MORGAN RACHEL LEVY FOR WSJ. MAGAZINE
By SARAH MEDFORD
DAVID CHICKEY had been at the helm of Radius Books for less than two years when he met with photographers Alex Webb and his wife, Rebecca Norris Webb, about an unpublished suite of Cuba photographs the couple was hoping to turn into a book. The Webbs had brought along a mock-up of the book in a tote bag. “Before we even had a chance to broach our cover suggestions, David pulled out his mock-up, showing a rough cardboard slipcase with violet lettering,” Webb recalls. “He said, ‘With the cardboard, I was referencing the handmade books of Ediciones Vigía, in Matanzas, Cuba, where they make books out of found materials—string, cardboard, shoeboxes and the like.’ ” The worn cardboard, Chickey further explained, also recalled building facades in Cuba. He then noted that the country is an explosion of color—as he slid a book wrapped in multicolor images by the Webbs out of the case. “We never showed him our mock-up,” Webb says. “We love how David somehow manages to get inside the concept of a book and render it in a special way—as he’s done with all five of the books he’s designed for us.”
Headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Radius publishes books that, while not luxury objects in the familiar sense (most are priced under $60), are making an impact in a burgeoning sector of the market. Monographs produced by or in collaboration with artists have a long history of formal experimentation, one that stretches from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience to Tom Sachs’s Monday, a duct tape and cardboard collage produced in multiple. Since starting Radius in 2007, Chickey has worked with the Webbs, Doug Wheeler, Lee Friedlander, Marlene Dumas and many others, his main contributions being an obsessive attention to materials and the way he attempts to lay bare the artists’ creative process. “Doing the right thing in the right way for an artist—sometimes there’s magic in it,” he says.
A three-volume collection by photographer John Gossage atop a monograph on painter Joan Watts, both from Radius. PHOTO: MORGAN RACHEL LEVY FOR WSJ. MAGAZINE
Chickey, 49, co-founded Radius while working as a graphic designer and curator in various parts of the art world. Book design has been a mainstay of his freelance work—clients include David Zwirner gallery, Magnum Photos and other, more mainstream publishers—and the work has always been a particular joy for him. He’d been severely dyslexic as a child growing up in Nashville, and his parents had encouraged him to read to overcome it. But as profits began seeping out of the publishing business, he saw decisions being made that seemed disrespectful of authors and content. Production shortcuts became more common; celebrity introductions were being grafted onto books, with awkward results. At a 2005 publishing seminar, he learned that art book publishers who had relied on sales to libraries were suffering as budgets were cut. It wasn’t that libraries didn’t want the books—they just couldn’t afford them.
Chickey and a small group of colleagues decided to set up Radius as a nonprofit, and the publisher donates hundreds of copies of each book it prints to schools, libraries and arts organizations across the country, more than 700 in all. While he admits that nonprofit status has its challenges (constant fund raising chief among them), Chickey values the freedom it confers on Radius, enabling it to stay small at around 20 titles a year. “It allows us to have a really close relationship with the artist and try to execute their vision, as opposed to the idea of what has sold or will sell well,” he says. Examples of Chickey’s craft include a monograph on Charles Arnoldi that includes two intaglio prints inside a plywood box designed by the artist; and a three-book collection by photographer John Gossage, each 50-image volume bound in color-blocked linen and magnetized, so that the limited-edition set forms a sculptural, off-kilter stack.
Continue to the WSJ Magazine online >>
RADIUS BOOKS/GEORGIA O'KEEFFE MUSEUM
Hbk, 10 x 13 in. / 140 pgs / 55 color.