Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Adobe as a healing balm

The Adobe Color Laboratory (detail) by Joanna Keane Lopez, 2021, Adobe, colored clays, casein glimmer, 9x1x7. 2021. (Courtesy Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, Texas).

Copyright © 2021

As a little girl, Joanna Keane Lopez remembers making clay animals out of mud.

Today she creates clay sculptures from clay.

Adobe walls sparkle in the sun, and its rays capture splinters of mica that glitter like stars. Lopez transforms this ancient building material into geometric works of art.

“SITElab15: Joanna Keane Lopez: Land Craft Theater” presents her work in a new commission from SITE Santa Fe. The exhibition runs until January 9, 2022.

Some of their forms rise into crescents against gallery walls; others include staircase-shaped pueblo architecture. One piece combines mirrors, mica, cotton and the blood red of the cochineal insects found on cacti.

“I’m really interested in geometric shapes,” said Lopez. “I am interested in making my work as minimal as possible.”

Albuquerque artist and co-president of the nonprofit Adobe in Action in Santa Fe, Lopez has exhibited at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and Blue Star Contemporary in San Antonio, Texas.

By combining clay and sand, Lopez smoothes the work out and seeks healing and redress for the fragmentation of families, homes, and communities connected to her New Mexico roots.

“My father’s family is from Socorro,” she said. “We have an old land permit there, so the family has been out there since the 18th century.”

Their ancestors named the Lopezville neighborhood. As a child, Lopez visited the area regularly.

“Mainly it’s in a state of fragmentation,” she said. “There has been a lot of intergenerational trauma in the family. There was a retreat from living on traditional land. “

Over the decades, her family history took darker turns, infected by drug addiction, incarceration, and suicide. For Lopez, her clay work serves as a kind of healing balm.

While studying at the University of New Mexico-Taos, Lopez contacted two women who taught her the tradition of clay building and plastering. At that time she was working on her bachelor’s degree in fine arts. She says Enjarradora (plasterer) and painter Anita Rodriguez taught her how to work the bricks, while artist and natural builder Carole Crews taught her how to plaster.

“I was very fortunate to work with both of them because they are just legends,” said Lopez.

She also learned to use alíz, a milky clay slip that was used to finish the inside of the walls and mixed with buttermilk.

“Traditionally, men did the masonry and women did the plastering,” she said.

Adobe calls for a relationship, Lopez said. You have to repair the cracks, you have to re-silt the building. Family and friends are drawn to the task. Lopez would like to revive this connection.

“I’ve always been in houses,” she explained. “When I lived in Taos, I lived in a place that was built by an artist builder. It was wood; it made me think about architecture as art. “

Lopez quickly translated these skills into sculpture and large installations. She works with five-gallon bucket-loads of clay and hundreds of pounds of adobe bricks to create her unique architecture-with-sculptures.

Their colorful clay sculptures invite the viewer to move freely around them and inspire reflection and playfulness. She also created paper sculptures suspended from the ceiling.

Next year it will come full circle for Lopez. She will return to her alma mater, Albuquerque High School, as artist-in-residence through 516 ARTS.

She also teaches an Adobe architecture workshop in Albuquerques New Mexico Earth Adobes. Both the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supported their work.

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