Bay Area native Afton Love renders beeswax on her stove, preferring to make her own in her San Francisco-based studio. In addition to providing a sealant for Love’s graphite paintings, the beeswax blurs her line work to make it look soft and organic. Beneath the waxy surface, Love’s large-scale drawings explore natural textures and landscapes from rocky faces to nests, at times consuming an entire wall. Delicate and translucent, the tracing paper lends a frailty to Love’s work that seems to contradict its size.
Drawings like Love’s “Long Butte”—recently shown during an exhibition entitled “Wild and Free” at Interface Gallery in Oakland—exemplify how her work can be simultaneously monumental and fragile. Often hung unframed, Love’s pieces appeal to an organic minimalist sensibility. At Lauren Wolf’s Esqueleto in Oakland, Love’s drawings blend seamlessly into the gallery’s collection of painted stoneware, delicate metal jewelry and found skulls by Brooklyn-based artist Michele Quan.
Recently, we spoke with Love about what goes into her process.
As an artist, where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in many forms. I am interested in ideas and images that transcend a person from their everyday reality. That being said, aesthetically my work is constantly drawing on the land that I grew up on in Northern California. Through the vehicle of memory I travel time and space in an attempt to create work that speaks both a physical language and one that provokes the subconscious. I like the idea that we are the universe that we are within—that life is a spiral and a place is as real as a memory.
Your process sounds very tactile, what do you think your unique technique adds to the aesthetic of your paintings?
As I developed this technique using tracing paper, graphite and beeswax, it for some reason immediately lended itself to painting the landscape. I had always been an abstract artist before I hit on these materials in this combination. First, I like the inherent grid that is created within the mural-sized pieces. It allows for a natural form without ignoring the developed element; the structure and geometry. Second, I love the raw and realness of the materials. The powdered graphite mimics dirt, dust, soot and other natural powders, while the wax literally is made within the landscapes that I depict. And because the graphite is oil-based the wax can’t smudge it—in fact, the wax seals and preserves it. In this way my work also talks about environmental issues. The translucency and apparent fragility of the work address questions concerning preservation and the disappearance of the natural world. But the truth is that the work is quite durable. Wax has been used through out history as a preservation technique. Also, the beeswax smells divine! Walking into a show of mine is like entering a garden of honeysuckles.
You work within a large range of canvas sizes. How do know where to start a new project?
My work always starts big. I like creating a place. A place for the viewer to enter and meander. The large mural-sized pieces come to me first. They are places that I know well. I grew up in a canyon, so my reality was framed by the canyon walls that surrounded our ranch. The pieces “Long Butte” and “Mirror Butte” are depictions and imaginations of the canyon walls that I grew to memorize. But all this work informs the rest. For example “Hole in Rock” is actually a depiction of a huge lava boulder that is one of the rocks seen in “Long Butte”, just close up and somewhat abstracted. And the series of small “Butte Layer” pieces are utilizing the translucency of the waxed tracing paper by layering recreated segments of “Mirror Butte” over each other to create new and ethereal spaces. So far the combination of materials have definitely lent themselves to a range of sizes. I am growing to be more and more interested in the layerability of the work. I hope to explore this aspect of my work more and more.
You can see Love’s work in person at Esqueleto in Oakland or check out their online shop.