Damage Control

By Matt Katz

A conversation with artist Paul Benavidez (cover + page 35) is no simple thing. I base this primarily on a 40-minute telephone ride we took together, a loop de loop of riffs and wild interpolations—from stardust and the infinite nature of art and the universe to the meditative aspects of surfing.

And to think: I was simply calling to gauge his interest in a potential article.

So it came as no great surprise when the writer originally assigned to this piece bowed out, submitting to the reality that this could be no ordinary who, what, why, where, when, how story. Enter Tree Bernstein, whose poetic leanings made her a spot-on candidate to profile, as she put it, a “guy [who] has 10,000 ideas.”

It’s rare, though in this case perfectly understandable, that a writer hoists the white flag of surrender. But if ever there were an issue for it, this was the one. In fact, this was the issue that almost didn’t happen. Features fizzled. Life-threatening illnesses intervened. The impossibility of encapsulating an abstruse character like Paul was just one hurdle on the way to the finish line.

Yes, this floppy collection of pages is more complex than it appears. Think of it as a mosaic of brainstormed ideas, the compilation of weeks and months of planning. We distill myriad editorial possibilities into a handful of articles, cull through hundreds of photos to select just a few. It’s an elaborate creative process, but I’d hesitate to call the finished product art.

So, what is art? Cue the Laughing Buddha; that’s more of a koan than an answerable question.

I do believe there exists a Great Wall between art and craft, though. And I carried this speculation into the W Gallery during the recent ArtWalk Ventura. This was the site of the Ventura County Potters’ Guild exhibit, where my wife and I expected to find flowerpots and coffee cups—the first one of those we saw brimmed with a steamy dominatrix and a spoonful of submissive figurines.

In the formative stages of this issue, I’d thought of our VCPG retrospective (page 25) as something of a folksy counterpoint to our contemporary arts interview (page 13). Shows you how much I know. Indeed, much of the work of local Guild members goes well beyond the realm of functional craft and into the hazy undefined of “art.”

And there it is again: the loaded word.

Perhaps art is simply an expression of emotions, regardless of the medium. One thing that’s always stuck with me is the concept of the creative process, not the end result, being the goal of a true artist.

Maybe that’s why there’s a sledgehammer perched within arm’s reach of Paul Benavidez on page 36. Or maybe it’s just a sledgehammer.


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