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Studies of time: 516 Arts hosts dual solo shows featuring works by Neal Ambrose-Smith and Afton Love

516 Arts explores the passage of time in an exhibition on the chaos and tumult engulfing us.

The two solo shows star works by Corrales resident Neal Ambrose-Smith (Confederated Salish/Kootenai Nation of Montana) and Afton Love of Ojo Caliente.

“Coyote Explains to Max,” 2019, Neal Ambrose-Smith, graphite on paper. (Courtesy of 516 Arts)

Ambrose-Smith combines cartoon imagery with humor to create a complex reflection on an unstable world.

Love offers contrasting imagery in large-scale rock drawings with a geological sense of time across the millennia.

Ambrose-Smith captures the seismic shifts erupting across the last four years with “The (Present) Tense.” He introduced the show through a large-scale neon sculpture inspired by a sketch of random lines. He placed the work on a 516 wall normally devoted to mammoth murals.

“I don’t do murals,” he said. “And I’m not about to learn, so I thought I could do a large painting.”

“(Where are you going?), Neal Ambrose-Smith, neon sign. (Courtesy of 516 Arts)

At the time, he had been creating woodcuts of knots. Realizing that “everybody loves glass,” he decided to transfer those designs into 15-by-20-feet four-color neon. The work is fully three-dimensional, changing as viewers move around it. He titled it “Where Are You Going?” in Salish, a language he is just now learning.

The arrest of former movie mogul and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein inspired much of his current work.

“Harvey Weinstein kind of pushed me over the edge,” Ambrose-Smith said. “I thought, ‘We need to enact change here.’ I have a daughter and a wife and I have a strong mother and two nieces.”

The artist was particularly upset at what he called the “push back” of some men’s reactions to the “Me Too” movement, saying any change in their behavior toward women offended their manhood.

A tangle of lines surrounds the figures of coyote and Max (from the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are”) in his 2019 drawing “Coyote Explains to Max.”

“I like the idea that coyote’s always doing something mischievous,” Ambrose-Smith said. “Max is the protagonist in ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ So he puts his arm around Max; culture is what’s around you. Do you want to be angry all the time? Or do you want to go to the beach all day.”

In “If I have to listen to the news one more time,” 2019, a cartoon cat appears to be drowning in an orbiting whirlpool.

“If I have to listen to the news one more time,” 2019, Neal Ambrose-Smith, oil, acrylic, collage, 36 x 36 inches. (Courtesy of 516 Arts)

Ambrose-Smith clipped the surrounding text from SkyMall magazine.

“It makes this run-on sentence,” he said. “It makes a checkerboard pattern.”

As chair of the studio arts department at Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts, Ambrose-Smith tells his students, “You don’t have to finish art; people will finish it for you.”

As for SkyMall, “Half of (the ads are) dedicated to hair loss and erectile dysfunction and the need for toys,” he said. “The other half is who has to deal with them – bath salts, massages and spas. The clear reality is that men are so dysfunctional.”

“The Story Teller,” 2017, Neal Ambrose-Smith, monotype print, 39.5 x 87 inches. (Courtesy of 516 Arts)

“The Story Teller,” 2017, monoprint, is a direct reflection of the artist, encircled by all manner of buildings and structures, many of them trailer homes. Ambrose-Smith grew up in a reservation trailer.

“That’s me as an artist,” he said. “I need to listen to the work. There’s a blank canvas and I have to start the conversation, so I make a mark. At some point I have to listen to what the painting says to me.”

“Blanca North Range,” Afton Love, graphite on vellum dipped in beeswax, 51 x 154 inches. (Courtesy of 516 Arts)

Love moved to New Mexico in 2018 from northern California after residencies in both Taos and Santa Fe beckoned her here.

“Once I made it to Taos, I felt almost like having the rug pulled out from under you,” she said. “I felt almost out of my body during the three months I was there. I was bombarded with inspiration. I was absorbing the landscape and translating it.”

She produced a series of graphite drawings of rock formations dipped in beeswax.

She has always been drawn to paper. Graphite is a mineral extracted out of the ground in chunks or as powder. Love draws her work using the powdered form and a stubby paintbrush. She approaches her work as grids of several sheets of paper, installing each panel as she works.

“It makes the graphite luminous,” she said. “You could hold it up and see through it.”

“Center Stone,” Afton Love, graphite on vellum dipped in beeswax, 34 x 28 inches. (Courtesy of 516 Arts)

“Center Stone” is a rock formation near Abiquiú. The composition can be seen as an abstraction, because the viewer cannot see the whole rock.

Love grew up near a river canyon near Chico, California. She has always been fascinated by volcanic formations.

“There’s a power to rocks and especially erosional landscapes that speak to the impermanence of time,” she said. “They’re sort of evolving just like we are.”

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