Combining their Talents

Writer Sue Kern-Fleischer

Painter Amado Peña doesn’t know what to expect when he reunites with ceramist Rich Lopez for a unique collaboration at the Thunderbird Artists 25th Annual Fall Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival, but that’s part of the fun.

It’s been four years since the two acclaimed artists merged their artistic styles for a special show, “Framing the Southwest,” at the prestigious American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) in California.

Lopez, a southern California artist best known for his intricate ceramic basket patterns, is new to the Carefree show. Peña, a talented painter and mixed media artist from New Mexico, is returning to Thunderbird Artists after more than a decade. The two friends will exhibit and sell original pieces in adjacent booths that include a center work station, where they will collaborate on unique ceramic basketry pieces that feature Peña’s paintings inside of each of Lopez’s ceramic baskets.

Denise Colter, president of Thunderbird Artists, said patrons appreciate the chance to view artist demonstrations.

“This is a rare opportunity to see two acclaimed artists work side by side to create original pieces of fine art,” she said. “Not only can you watch the process, you’ll be able to take a ceramic basket home with you since Amado will be painting his images with acrylic paint.”

David Armstrong, AMOCA founder, said that the museum show with Lopez and Peña was well-received, particularly because their combined talents resulted in unique pieces.

“The collaboration between two artists is not a new thing, but it’s not common. By combining their talents, they are able to create artworks that surpass their individual efforts,” he said.

Curious Risk-Takers

Why does the collaboration between Lopez and Peña work so well? While they have some things in common—both have Yaqui heritage, and both were drawn to art early in their lives—they draw their inspiration from different sources. Perhaps their success together can be credited to the fact that both artists are risk-takers who share an insatiable curiosity to discover new ways of expressing their creativity.

Lopez worked in sales before receiving a potter’s wheel from his wife on Christmas day 14 years ago.

“She remembered how much I enjoyed ceramics in high school,” he said. “I hadn’t touched clay in 35 years. I threw 40 pots that day, and I’ve been in my studio seven days a week ever since. That’s how much it changed my life.”

Passionate about creating new work and curious about new techniques, Lopez taught himself a geometric math pattern rhythm that he incorporates into his ceramic basket creations.

He enrolled at a local college where an art instructor recognized his talent and encouraged him to find a niche to separate himself from others.

“That night, I dreamed I was making a basket with a tool in my hand. I woke up early and made the tool from my memory of the dream. Then I applied it to the clay and created my first basket,” he said.

Curiosity also drives Peña’s passion for creating bold, colorful paintings and mixed media pieces. He grew up in south Texas, where there weren’t many opportunities to develop his art, but he pushed himself to hone his drawing skills.

After graduating from college, he taught art for 16 years until he decided to pursue his passion full-time. He earned a master’s in art education and opened his first art gallery in Santa Fe in the 1980s.

“Thematically, my work is influenced from many different sources,” he said. “Some of my ideas come from the pueblo where I live, but not everything is related to my tribe. I have a very stylized formula, and I’m always interested in seeing how my images translate onto different mediums, such as jewelry, leather and clay.”

The Carefree festival will give Peña a chance to do just that on Lopez’s clay-fired baskets.

“I’ll be using acrylics to paint the baskets while they are in a bisque stage, which is very rare to see,” he said, adding that each piece will be sealed, and that each basket they collaborate on will be decorative, not functional.

Individually, both artists will exhibit their own work in separate booths. Peña will exhibit new paintings and drawings, while Lopez will exhibit his new Taa’a limited series of ceramic baskets, which are 20- to 24-inches in diameter.

“These baskets will be my largest series to date. Taa’a is Yaqui for ‘the sun,’ and this series is a tribute to the many blessings we receive from the sun. Each basket will be made from a 25-pound bag of clay, and they will all come with a letter of authenticity,” Lopez said.

Thunderbird Artists Fall Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival

Friday through Sunday, November 2–4

10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Easy and Ho Hum Streets in

downtown Carefree

$3 for adults; free for children 17

and under; $10 wine tasting

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