During a late afternoon studio visit with painter, illustrator and graphic designer Sienna Luna, she is bustling through last-minute preparations for her upcoming show at the ART.i.factory, the gallery space within the Art.i.fact consignment shop. Paints and tools litter the table of her small space, but it is still impossibly clean. She offers me figs—literal figs.
A Santa Fe native who returned to town after a stint in Arizona, Luna's had a little more than a month to prepare new works, brush up in-progress pieces and create prints for Two Sides / Same Coin, an event that not only showcases the artist's gorgeous, colorful work, but that serves to help her explore the concept of duality in art, nature, mankind and herself.
"It's about the balance of opposing identities," Luna says, "and the same patterns playing out in the natural world."
Luna says the concept started out through mere observation of her surroundings. This eventually grew into a regular practice of seeking, both within herself and inside other people who gravitate into her sphere.
"I started noticing it in other people—how we seek to find that balance within ourselves. … We're trying to find out identities; are we masculine, feminine, something in between? It was about trying to illustrate people who maybe aren't one or the other, an interplay of elements in most people. I wanted to understand what I was noticing."
Take titular piece "Two Sides Same Coin," a work that embraces yet toys with the notion of symmetry. We observe a woman from behind, her shoulders and back bare but emblazoned with sacred geometry and a single red bird; her headdress has become a makeshift nest. Around her, jutting upward, are two writhing snakes, one red and the other blue, nearly meeting in the middle. Perhaps a nod to Uroboros, the snake that ate itself, but more of a play on the idea of two.
"The intertwining of red and blue is energy, and it's pulsating through these snakes and playing with the figure," she says. "With all of the pieces there's an interplay of hot and cold and how they play with each other. It's visually striking, but blue and pink are the representation of the two sides of the self."
"Link in a Chain" more overtly displays the aforementioned idea of symmetry: A bull with nearly identical horns is surrounded by a chain that doesn't quite meet. It's arboreal, with the creature either transforming to a tree or having morphed from one; the beast's third eye oozes energy and follows you wherever you go. This animal-meets-plant motif is a sly hint at her burgeoning body of work, early ideas from which we'll see at Two Sides / Same Coin, and a project that finds Luna randomly generating plant and animal subjects and abstracting on the results with homeopathic flora imagery and the accoutrements of the natural world.
"I always do people," she notes, "but I've wanted to do still lifes with plants and animals; I want to make double helixes out of plants and bugs—I want to be versatile, I don't want to just continue creating the same thing over and over again because it's my comfort zone."
This speaks, of course, to growth—personal, artistic or otherwise—and becomes an excellent counterpoint to the Two Sides / Same Coin idea of balance. How does one balance their own duality while tackling and managing growth as a human or as an artist?
"To make art that has some kind of emotion people resound with, that takes putting yourself into it," Luna muses. "Not to say, 'I bleed for thee!' but [this body] is definitely personal. It's somehow kind of scary."
"I was born into an art family," artist and gallerist Matthew Rowe says. "Both my parents are art dealers, and ever since I was a kid, when we took vacations, it was museums and galleries—and I've always been making stuff."
Rowe's name might sound familiar due to Addison Rowe Gallery, a space that specializes in deceased artists such as Emil Bisttram and Beatrice Mandelman—but he's a devout ceramicist in his own right and has trained in both Eastern and Western methods at the University of New Mexico, the Oxbow School in California and under Santa Fe ceramics master Heidi Loewen.
"I kind of stumbled upon it in college, the idea that clay is like a record," Rowe says. "Like how some of the earliest Babylonian records we have are receipts carved into clay."
In his upcoming show, Contextual K e r n i n g, Rowe builds on his love of clay as he simultaneously embodies an exercise in letting go. As much as any artist does, Rowe labors over each piece in its initial stages—but whereas the clay and ceramics most people are familiar with tend to be utilitarian pieces such as bowls or vessels, Rowe's works are made to be broken. Each piece is carefully crafted, deliberately broken, then rebuilt into wall hangings meant for beautification rather than use.
"Part of it was working in a gallery and realizing people value something that hangs on a wall more than sits on a table," Rowe says, "and part of it was this kind of celebration within our cultural norms; celebrating a broken piece and raising its value by putting it on the wall—you're taking away the function of the piece, but you're shifting it, celebrating the work."
For each piece, Rowe uses the slab method of throwing clay, a style that shirks the more readily recognizable vesssel-turning wheel to create two-dimensional creations. Next, he creates patterns and shapes within the clay before he breaks it down into pieces—a step that is necessary due to the small size of his kiln. While the pieces are fired for upward of 16 hours, Rowe builds the wooden backs and frames in which they'll hang.
"I've learned in this process that I spend almost as much time making the backs as the pieces themselves," he says, "but it's not just a board the ceramic is attached to. I've tried to make it so there's a conversation between the background and the piece."
This means a sort of 3-D effect for many works. Rowe also creates in smaller mediums, such as tile, but with a similar break-the-clay methodology.
"That way you're not creating the illusion of space," he says. "It's actually there."
Rowe delves into minimalism as well, but with a decidedly Japanese bent. A self-described obsessive when it comes to Japanese architecture, many of his pieces resemble the types of paper screens, doors and windows we associate with traditional homes on the island nation. He achieves this simply, with wooden dowels mounted on the backing, but he toils over their positioning until he considers them just right—an interesting step, considering how completely he seems to enjoy the sometimes random shapes that occur during the breaking of the clay. Still, the commitment to minimalism illustrates another point for Rowe: namely, the way we speak about and consume art.
"I feel like the over-conceptualization in contemporary art is one of the things that's ruining it," he says. "I don't want to write a manifesto! If I have to write that way about it, the works aren't doing their job. I'm just trying to make things I like."
Find Rowe's show at both his residency at the Beals & Co. Showroom, which opens this Friday, and at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado (198 Hwy. 592, 946-5700) through Sept. 16.