Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

The artist’s style is characterized by natural materials and geometric shapes

“Nine ways to say hello”, Joanna Keane Lopez, 2018, adobe, mirror, lime wash, mica, cotton, cochineal insects, onion peels. 8x15x2. (Courtesy of the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum)

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 to crescent moons on gallery walls; others include staircase-shaped pueblo architecture. One piece combines mirrors, mica, cotton and the blood red of cochineal insects that can be found on cacti.

“The Adobe Color Laboratory (Detail)” by Joanne Keane Lopez, Adobe, colored clays, casein glimmer. 9x1x7. (Courtesy Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, TX)

“I’m really interested in geometric shapes,” says Lopez. “I am interested in keeping 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 smooths the work together 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.

“The Adobe Color Laboratory (Detail)”, Joanna Keane Lopez, 2021, Adobe, colored clays, casein glimmer, 9x1x7. (Courtesy Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, TX)

“Mainly it’s in a state of fragmentation,” she said.

“There has been a lot of intergenerational trauma in the family.

There was a withdrawal from living on traditional land. “

Over the decades, her family history took darker turns, infected by drug addiction, incarceration, and suicide. For Lopez, her adobe 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 lucky to work with both of them because they’re 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 that 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. “

“Un Baile de Nosotros” (A Dance of Us) by Joanna Keane Lopez, 2020, clay bricks, clay plaster, Alíz, mica and mirrors. 19x3x14. (Courtesy The Momentary of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Lopez quickly translated these skills into sculpture and large-scale installations. She works with five-gallon bucket-loads of clay and hundreds of pounds of adobe bricks to produce 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 hanging 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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