Afton Love, who lives and creates in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, pivoted from big-picture abstract art to a form of abstraction that ponders and employs addition rather than subtraction.
Afton Love greets me at the gate of her home in Ojo Caliente and we walk back to her studio. The room has pale wood floors, white walls, and high viga ceiling beams. Light filters in from angled skylights. Windows line the back wall. The door to the porch is open, and up a few steps, the kitchen door is also ajar.
A series of nine delicate porcelain tiles lean against the wall on a white tabletop. They are so thin they appear almost translucent if you hold them up to the light. Afton gestures to the tiles and describes the difficulties of working with clay, especially in such delicate layers.
“Every ceramicist who has attempted to explain anything about clay to me has said: clay has a memory. It always wants to return to its original shape. That is a parameter that all ceramicists seem to work with… once you form something with clay, its internal structure is forever altered by that shape.”
Before shifting her focus to ceramics and hyper-realistic drawings of rock formations, Afton made abstract art.
“I was trying to convey these big ideas or big questions through beautiful, amorphous, empty forms. My work just got more and more reduced. It became almost nothing.”
At the time, Afton was building loose assemblages with cut, found, and transparent papers, but the layers kept coming apart. She experimented with several methods of holding everything together (papers sandwiched between glass or held in place with layers of spray glue). Eventually, she tried beeswax. It didn’t work either.
“This beautiful, transparent thing I had created became a heavy blob… but the wax was in my studio, and it was hot, and it smelled so good.”
Afton had made a series of rubbings of her studio floor using powdered graphite on tracing paper, and the stack was within arm’s reach, so she dipped one into beeswax.
“And suddenly this thing that was nothing became something. There was a real beauty to the tracing paper. It suddenly carried weight. The graphite was richer and had a luminosity I wouldn’t have expected.”
She dipped the rest and arranged them into a grid on the wall.
“What I had been looking for in the amorphic shape drawings and assemblages was this sense of movement and natural form… but when I put all those weird things on the wall, the natural shape was inherent… it was such an expansive moment, because the work had been shrinking, becoming more and more nothing, and suddenly it just opened and grew really big, really quickly.”
I walk over to an unfinished drawing of a rock formation attached to the wall with small tears of green and light green tape. The edges of the paper are unmarked. The drawing begins in the center and moves out. Afton records each tiny gradation of the rock’s surface with powdered graphite on tracing paper. Some of her drawings take months to complete, shadow by shadow.
“It’s almost like the idea of abstraction through addition rather than reduction. So often abstraction is reducing things to their most basic components or essence, but for me I realize that the more detail, the more hyper-attention I place on one thing… it’s like the whole story seems to open up in terms of what’s behind that.”
Afton draws many rock formations against a white or nearly white background—no sky or surrounding landscape. Without those markers, I notice the layers and indentations more clearly. Soft rock is more vulnerable to wind and water. Over time, it falls away.
I ask Afton if the way she sees the rocks changes over the course of her long process.
“It’s the same form but you get something different every time, and there’s something very liberating and rewarding about that… it’s also this idea of the nature of time and reality… you can ask the same question over and over again.”