As a little girl, Joanna Keane Lopez remembers making clay animals out of mud.
Today, she creates adobe sculptures from clay.
Adobe’s walls sparkle in the sun, its rays capturing shards of mica that twinkle like stars. Lopez turns this ancient house-building material into geometric works of art.
“SITElab15: Joanna Keane Lopez: Land Craft Theater” presents her work in a new commission at SITE Santa Fe. The exhibition runs until January 9, 2022.
Some of its forms rise in half-moons against the walls of the gallery; others incorporate a pueblo staircase architecture. One piece combines mirrors, mica, cotton and the blood red of cochineals found on cacti.
“I’m really interested in geometric shapes,” Lopez said. “I’m interested in pushing my work to be as minimal as possible. “
Albuquerque artist and co-chair of the nonprofit Adobe in Action of Santa Fe, Lopez has exhibited at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas, the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Blue Star Contemporary in San Antonio, Texas.
Through the combination of clay and sand, Lopez smooths the work out, seeking healing and mending for the shattering families, homes, and community tied to his roots in New Mexico.
“My father’s family is from Socorro,” she said. “We have an old land grant there, so the family has been there since the 1700s.”
His ancestors named the district Lopezville. Lopez visited the area regularly as a child.
“Mainly, it’s in a state of fragmentation,” she said.
“There has been a lot of intergenerational trauma in the family.
There has been a setback from living on traditional lands.
Over the decades her family history has taken darker turns, infected with drug addiction, imprisonment and suicide. For Lopez, his adobe work serves as a sort of healing balm.
While studying at the University of New Mexico-Taos, Lopez contacted two women who taught her the tradition of adobe making and plastering. At the time, she was preparing for her Bachelor of Fine Arts. She says that Enjarradora (female plasterer) and painter Anita Rodriguez taught her how to process bricks, while artist and natural builder Carole Crews showed her how to plaster.
“I’ve been so lucky to work with the two because they’re just legends,” Lopez said.
She also learned to use alíz, a milky clay slip used to finish the interior of walls, mixing it with buttermilk.
“Traditionally, men did the brickwork and women did the plastering,” she said.
Adobe demands a relationship, Lopez said. You have to fix the cracks, you have to fill the building. It attracts family and friends to tasks.
Lopez wants to rekindle that connection.
“I have always been in the 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 of architecture as an art.
Lopez quickly transferred these skills to sculpture and large installations. She works with five-gallon bucket loads of clay and hundreds of pounds of adobe bricks to produce her unique architectural-sculptures.
Her colorful adobe sculptures invite the viewer to move freely around them, inspiring reflection and playfulness. She also created paper sculptures suspended from the ceiling.
Next year, Lopez will have come full circle. She will return to her alma mater, Albuquerque High School, as Artist in Residence through 516 ARTS. She also teaches an adobe architecture studio at New Mexico Earth Adobes in Albuquerque. The Andy Warhol Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have supported his work.