It’s an undeniable fact that things of this world can seem otherworldly in art, but Afton Love has managed to find places and ways to capture extraterrestrial landscapes here on Earth. No distortion, just nature. Her piece La Plaza Blanca at Mr. Jiu’s is pure evidence of that. With graphite, paper and wax she creates photo-realistic paintings of surreal places we can only wish to stumble upon. This is Afton Love…
We arrive in a busy mid-morning Chinatown with schoolchildren and tourists already buzzing about. A modelesque Afton greets me and we’re let in by one of the staff at Mr. Jiu’s Right away it’s clear that Afton is like one of the family from this visibly tight-knit crew. I thank Chef Brandon Jew for letting us photograph her in the space and in one swift line he replies: “Anything for Afton.” Her work there is well loved. People marvel at it and Afton confesses, “people ask if the technique is photography or painting. When the piece was installed, on the opening night I was told ‘ah yes, I see the chef and his wok’ but in reality I didn’t put faces or anything there. It’s literally just how I saw the rocks arranged.” The thing about this piece is that that’s not the only time people made a comment about seeing faces. I personally thought this was filled with asian-inspired motifs and people throughout but Love reassures me it’s just a painting of New Mexico-rocks. “It’s weird because people will ask me all the time or tell me ‘yeah I see this face and that, which makes me realize how abstract the work really is.”
As we continue to move through the piece, she reflects on how much she’s grown since this commission, which at the time was almost exactly one year. “I can see the changes now that I’m re-visiting the work. Sometimes I’ll think I’m just doing the same thing over and over but then I look at my old work and I can see how much I’ve changed. It’s a constant evolution even though sometimes it’s not so easy to tell, but we just always keep learning.” She recalls being in New Mexico for a residency which is where she began the piece. On the trek back a bit more than a hiccup and a heart stopping moment hit: she was taking her piece, a beeswax and graphite dipped piece of art through Death Valley in July. Surely this would result in a melted disaster. With a horrified look on her face Afton retells the story of her sister/driving buddy telling her to have a glass of wine and let it go. The giant piece laid in the trunk all the way from New Mexico to San Francisco, but the beeswax was resilient. “It was incredible to see that the piece held it together. We arrived and it was intact. Everything was in place and there were no smudges, that was what really cemented my respect for beeswax as a medium.” So why graphite and beeswax to begin with? “It’s sort of an evolution. Graphite is pure carbon, it comes from the Earth and so does the beeswax so it feels like I’m making work that is made of the subject in that way. The materials really like each other.”
Clearly Afton has a close connection with the world around her. She says that in her process she visits, photographs and paints these places with the objective of being able to have people come to the same spot and see the exact same thing. “It’s important for me that my work is true to the places I’ve been. I want to have all the components of a place represented.” And represent them she did.
It’s inspiring to see the support of the Bay Area towards its creatives. Both the food artists and fine artists work together in synergy to create spaces with objects that almost always contain more than meets the eye. In this case a giant paper, graphite and beeswax mural that although has very American roots fits perfectly in this historical Chinese-American building. Here’s to harmony through art and design.