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CSU Channel Islands Art Professor Explores Southern California Flora, Fauna, Flotsam in Solo Exhibit

Artwork by Luke Matjas, depicting a California Condor.
Artwork by Luke Matjas, depicting a California Condor. (Luke Matjas photo)

While serving as artist-in-residence at Joshua Tree National Park and roaming the mountains around Southern California, CSU Channel Islands Associate Professor of Art Luke Matjas has created his first-ever solo exhibition, “That Great Rock Mass is Called the Earth.”

The exhibit will be on display at Oxnard’s Carnegie Art Museum from March 13 to May 22 with an opening reception from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, 2016, at the museum.

The 30-piece collection consists of colorful, large-scale digital prints along with a series of intricate graphite drawings. The work is his interpretation of what we see in the relative wilds of Southern California and what Matjas saw each day during his time in Joshua Tree.

“It’s safe to say these aren’t traditional portrayals of the local landscape,” said Matjas, who is also chair of the art and performing arts programs at CSUCI. “There’s a level of realism, but it’s more like a cross between a natural history museum and your local Home Depot.”

Matjas considers the work to be a more realistic portrait of our surroundings, one that combines the natural with the unnatural. His work stood out from the 150 applications for the six artist-in-residence spots available each year, according to Joshua Tree Lead Park Ranger and AIR Program Liaison Caryn Davidson.

“Luke was an outstanding candidate, so it was easy for the jury to come to a consensus on his project proposal,” Davidson said.

While in Joshua Tree, Matjas would watch the sun rise over the jagged mountains while sipping coffee in the 1930s mining cabin where he stayed. It was so quiet, he could almost hear the spiders move. “Or maybe they were just really big,” he said.

“I’m a big trail runner, so I would go for a trail run,” Matjas said. “I covered 172 miles of park.”

His artist’s eye took in lizards, rabbits, desert scrub, rattlesnakes and bighorn sheep drinking from secluded ponds.

But in Joshua Tree and tucked in the flora and fauna of Southern California he also saw discarded coolers, lawn chairs, sprinklers, traffic cones and poorly-concealed cell phone towers.

Guests at Matjas’s show will recognize familiar Ventura County landscapes, as well tributes to Condor #358, the California condor who died after being entangled in a recreational rope atop Tar Creek Falls in the Los Padres National Forest.

There’s also a depiction of P-18, a local mountain lion struck on the 101 freeway. 

Matjas hopes his larger-than-life work leaves the audience with a humorous yet poignant ecological message.

“Realistically what I want people to do is to have a greater appreciation of their own surroundings, however mundane they may be,” he said.

Carnegie Art Museum Members can attend the reception for free. The cost for non-members is $5.

For more information, visit www.carnegieam.org. For additional details about CI’s Art Program, visit www.csuci.edu/academics/art.htm.

— Kim Gregory is a communications specialist at CSU Channel Islands.

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