Editor's Note

Creative Conundrums

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by Michael Moore


riend once told me that the purpose of art is to pose a question.

That may not be universally true — and as I am not an artist myself, I feel unqualified to debate the point. But as an observer, at least, I think it is not inaccurate to think of art as, among other things, a tool of inquiry. And certainly, most of the artists we feature in this month’s Arts Issue are seeking answers through their work.

Vanessa Wallace-Gonzales, subject of our cover story, is very open about that fact. “I’m exploring myself and my identity and where things originate from,” she says. Aiding her in this search are the “mythic” beings she has created out of paper, paint and found objects. Her creative cosmology is a visual speculation on what it would be like to have our internal selves made external, with all our faults, vulnerabilities, hidden depths and strengths on display for all to see. It’s a very personal quest, but she’s also hinting at something universal and, perhaps, divine; elements that act as a code to decipher the nature of humanity itself.

Where Wallace-Gonzales looks inward, Luke Matjas turns his gaze outward — quite literally. An avid hiker and ultrarunner, the outdoors are his greatest source of inspiration, and threats to the natural environment pose a quandary he confronts in his highly detailed, large-scale paintings. Human civilization and the environment collide on Matjas’ canvas, with jarring, surprising and sometimes humorous results. What kind of planet, he seems to ask, will arise from the faceoff between the manmade and the naturally occurring — and how will the new world order come into balance?

For Jean Larrivée, founder of Larrivée Guitars, there was no question about a superior product. He knows that answer lies in a commitment to quality, and great care in every step of an instrument’s construction. His conundrum was trying to stay viable in a world increasingly dominated by mammoth competitors churning out mass volume of product in overseas factories. The solution so far: Keep the work in house, and stay the course with exceptional craftsmanship. Larrivée isn’t interested in making the most guitars, just the best, and that guiding principle has allowed the Oxnard company to maintain its integrity and economic health for over 50 years.

The hidden depths of the self, the state of the planet, old-fashioned ideals in a new economic reality — there’s enough there to keep anyone awake at night. Facing those Questions-with-a-Capital-Q takes courage, and attempting to answer them is a brave endeavor indeed.


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