The artist’s style features natural materials, geometric shapes

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“Nine Ways to Say Hello”, Joanna Keane Lopez, 2018, adobe, mirror, limewash, mica, cotton, cochineal, onion peel. 8x15x2. (Courtesy of National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum)

As a little girl, Joanna Keane Lopez remembers forming clay animals from mud.

Today, she creates adobe sculptures from clay.

The adobe walls glisten in the sun, with its rays catching shards of mica that twinkle like stars. Lopez transforms this ancient house-building material into geometric works of art.

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

Some of its forms rise like half-moons against the walls of the gallery; others incorporate stepped pueblo architecture. One room mixes mirrors, mica, cotton and the blood red of mealybugs found on cacti.

“The Adobe Color Laboratory (detail)”, by Joanne Keane Lopez, adobe, colored clays, casein mica. 9x1x7. (Courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, Texas)

“I’m really interested in geometric shapes,” Lopez said. “I’m interested in pushing my work to be as minimal as possible.”

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

Through the combination of clay and sand, Lopez smooths the work, seeking healing and repair of broken families, homes, and community tied to her roots in New Mexico.

“My father’s family is from Socorro,” she says. “We have an old land grant there, so the family has been there since the 1700s.”

His ancestors baptized the district Lopezville. Lopez visited the area regularly as a child.

“The Adobe Color Laboratory (detail)”, Joanna Keane Lopez, 2021, adobe, colored clays, casein mica, 9x1x7. (Courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, Texas)

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

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

We have moved away from living on traditional lands.

Over the decades, her family history took darker turns, infected with drug addiction, imprisonment and suicide. For Lopez, his adobe work is 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 working on her Bachelor of Fine Arts. She says enjarradora (woman plasterer) and painter Anita Rodriguez taught her how to deal with bricks, while artist and natural builder Carole Crews showed her how to plaster.

“I was so lucky to work with both of them because they’re just legends,” Lopez said.

She also learned to use alíz, a milky clay engobe used to finish the inside of walls, by mixing it with buttermilk.

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

Adobe requires a relationship, Lopez said. You have to fix the cracks, you have to patch the building. He attracts family and friends to the tasks.

Lopez wants to rekindle that connection.

“I’ve always been in homes,” she explained.

“When I lived in Taos, I lived in a place that belonged to an artist builder. It was wood; it made me think of architecture as an art.

“Un Baile de Nosotros” (A Dance of Us) by Joanna Keane Lopez, 2020, adobe brick, mud plaster, alíz, mica and mirror. 19x3x14. (Courtesy of The Momentary of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Lopez quickly transferred these skills into sculpture and large installations. She works with five gallon loads of clay and hundreds of pounds of adobe bricks to produce her singular sculptures and architectures.

Her colorful adobe sculptures invite viewers to move freely around them, inspiring thoughtfulness 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 an artist-in-residence through 516 ARTS. She also teaches an adobe architecture workshop at New Mexico Earth Adobes in Albuquerque. The Andy Warhol Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have supported his work.

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