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In the Details

Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez

One thing you should know about David Blackburn’s work is that it can crush your dreams. If you have any aspirations to become a master woodworker, divert your eyes from page 11. Or prepare to be humbled. This is not the sort of woodwork you look at and say, I could do that. This is genius stuff.

And the best part? He works in his garage. A modest workshop in a modest home in a modest Ventura neighborhood. Which is just about perfect. If the artist David Blackburn lived in, say, Malibu or New York City, he’d be rich—and perhaps not so good-natured.

Would he like to make some money off his work? Why, yes. And God knows he deserves it. His obsessively crafted sculptures—decorative boxes and furniture, vases, bowls, trays: everything he creates is a fine art sculpture—are otherworldly. But I’m quite sure that if money were taken out of the picture, David Blackburn would ultimately find himself back on the quest for the holy grail of wood.

In third grade the boy was scrounging materials and building two-story wooden forts—on an Alaskan island devoid of trees. As a young man in 1967 he took an art appreciation class at Ventura College. That’s the extent of his formal training. And now, well, he works in his garage, shopping the Internet for exotic woods and turning them into fine art with a function. Shockingly detailed masterworks. There’s a table with a wooden “waterfall” cascading between coralwood burls. A four-foot-tall heart-shaped jewelry chest rotates on a carved Belgium black marble base and comprises eight different kinds of wood, not to mention hidden inscriptions and secret compartments within secret compartments.

We run a lot of art- and artist-related editorial content in Ventana. This piece, however, is a rare diversion in that we assigned it based solely on the work itself; the artist’s backstory is a mere bit player. As Blackburn says, “Wood tells its own story—I’m a microphone.”

In the case of Joe Cardella (p. 31), our feature is a mix of the man, his home, his art, art in general, and a celebration of an audacious idea: to publish a magazine where every single page is an original work of art. And he did it. For 25 years. Eleven months a year, never missing a deadline.

Again I’m humbled.

At least I can relate to Ken McAlpine’s travel story (p. 28). Ken is a wordsmith. He has a way of juggling language to enhance his own dry sense of humor. It wasn’t enough for him to write about the swimming lizards of the Galapagos, or Darwin’s famous theory of evolution. Instead he considers becoming a Darwinian vigilante himself—for the good of all mankind, of course.

And why not? Other audacious ideas have worked.

12-01-2011

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