Where the ART is

Home is where the ART is: Poster artist inspired

by family and travel


By Gene Peach/For The New Mexican

Joseph Ascensión López with his piece, San Juan Nepomuceno.

Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 4:28 pm | Updated: 4:32 pm, Wed Jul 17, 2013.

By Arnold Vigil/For The New Mexican |0 comments

There’s a common thread among Northern New Mexicans who leave the state and then come back: They develop a deepening passion for their homeland that seems to grow with each new and exciting place they experience. Some might call it homesickness, while others explain it with age-old adages — ”Absence makes the heart grow fonder” or ”You never know what you have until it’s gone.”

The 2013 Traditional Spanish Market’s poster artist, Joseph Ascensión López, regularly experiences that love and longing for his family and historical roots the many times he’s been away from his home in La Mesilla, just south of Española. Fortunately, he also rekindles his lifelong passion to create art every time he leaves. His multi-award-winning 2012 entry into the Spanish Market, San Juan Nepomuceno, was chosen by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society to grace this year’s poster and will be used in much of the promotional materials for the weekend event.

The riveting piece won first place at the 2012 Spanish Market in the Relief Carving category, as well as winning the Archbishop’s Award and the SCAS Director’s Award that designates the following year’s poster artist. San Juan Nepomucenowas literally on display for only minutes when it was quickly purchased by market-goers, its paint probably not even dry as the pine-based aspen piece was only completed a few days before the juried competition. López says the wood originated from a mill owned by family friends in the Peñasco area.

His santero father Felix planted the seeds of wanderlust and art into the 43-year-old López at a very early age. Felix and his brothers Manuel and Alejandro are all accomplished santeros. Joseph’s sister, Krissa Maria López, is also an artist, regularly showing and selling her straw appliqué creations amongst the López men at their longtime family booth at Spanish Market. (The family is not related to legendary carver José Dolores López of Cordova.)

“I really come from a family of artists,” the soft-spoken López revealed. “My dad was in a wood-carving group called La Escuelita that showed their work every year at Spanish Market. He is my teacher as well.” López said that many of the children of La Escuelita’s members also formed friendships and became artists. They’ve since formed their own coalition called Sangre Fuerte, which shows their distinct and traditional Northern New Mexico art at different venues.

At the age of eight, López, along with his sister Krissa, was among a handful of children who first began showing their work at the fledgling Youth Spanish Market in the early 1980s. Just a few years later, Felix López treated his young artisan son to a trip to Europe, where the duo were exposed to classic artworks displayed in German museums and at the Louvre and Musée Rodin in Paris.

“I distinctly remember seeing the Mona Lisa,” López recalled. “Being exposed to that kind of art opened my eyes.” But López admitted that when he advanced into his teenage years, his passion turned from art to basketball and baseball at Española Valley High School. His athletic talent seemed to equal his artistic ability, as the 6-foot-4 prodigy of the local coaching legend Lenny Roybal went on to play two years of collegiate basketball at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

But after a suffering a leg injury in the sport he loved, López returned home to La Mesilla to rehabilitate. While he floundered around on crutches, his father encouraged him to pick up his carving tools once again. Soon, López was creating masterful works of carved art and he later finished college at the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in fine art. With renewed interest in art, the world soon beckoned him as well, reawakening the wondrous feelings he experienced with his father during their trip to Europe.

López has since traveled deep into Mexico and Bolivia, where he studied the art and related media techniques of the region. In Florence, Italy, he studied the techniques of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Donatello. Then Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Central American countries of Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua beckoned, as did the countries of Ecuador, Peru and Columbia, where he absorbed the art and local customs and made friends with fellow artists along the way. He most recently returned to New Mexico from Hawaii, where he studied Polynesian carving techniques.

“These trips have been very helpful,” López said. “I consider myself an adventurer; I travel as much as I can.” But when he finds himself back in New Mexico, the master carver admits, “I spend most of my time in Española.”

For more information about López and his family, visit www.lopezarte.com.