The House That Art Built

Artists Kathleen Kinkopf and Enrico Embroli
have created a stunning spot in which to work and live


The artistic process comprises many levels of creation. It starts with basic forms like brush strokes and sketches and continues with complete compositions, bodies of work, and, eventually, entire careers. Now imagine adding to the mix the creation of an art-filled personal relationship, and the creation of a massive home and studio in which all of the above is contained. That’s exactly what New Mexico artists Enrico Embroli and Kathleen Kinkopf have achieved. The husband and wife have thriving, separate artistic careers, Kinkopf as a painter and Embroli as a painter and sculptor. Three years ago they took the creative process to another level altogether when they conceived and designed The 5100 Building, a contemporary, multi-use architectural beauty located on the edge of a vast open space within the city limits of Albuquerque, NM.

The 5100 Building is a mixed-media creation in the highest sense of the term. “The 5100 Building is what I like to call Enrico’s larger-than-life sculpture,” says Kinkopf of the 7,400-square-foot building. It houses Kinkopf’s and Embroli’s individual studios, an exhibition space, and five executive business offices on the ground floor and the couple’s home on the second floor. “It was one of the first multi-use buildings in Albuquerque that was designed from the ground up,” says Embroli, who had designed the couple’s homes in the past but never undertaken a commercial project like this one. “The permit process was long, but the city was very excited about the building.”

Back in 2001, Kinkopf and Embroli were living in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights when they saw the “for sale” sign go up on a pie-shaped, half-acre property just a mile away, adjacent to open space in the shadow of Sandia Peak. “It had always been our dream to own a place where we could work and live and have rental space,” says Embroli. He designed the entire building in 2002; then followed the search for a contractor, the creation of production drawings, and the final bid. They broke ground in February 2004, with Embroli supervising construction on a daily basis. Meanwhile Kinkopf designed and installed (with a crew) the extensive landscaping.

Any couple that has built a house together knows that “challenging” is usually not a strong enough word to describe the process, no matter how solid the relationship. Kinkopf and Embroli’s experience was made even more challenging by Kinkopf’s breast cancer diagnosis just a month before the groundbreaking; she had two of her four surgeries before constuction was completed. Two weeks after the building was finished, her sister lost her battle with ovarian cancer. “You just do the best you can,” says Kinkopf of this trying time. “Looking back, I feel very fortunate that I got through it.”


Today the two partners have an inspiring space that has made a substantial and positive difference in their work in many ways. “Having this project that we’re so proud of inspires us to produce great work,” says Kinkopf. “It allows us to expand our visions for our work,” agrees Embroli. “We can work on larger pieces. And in the exhibition space we can evaluate our work as an entire body, rather than having to store completed pieces in a rack in a corner of a studio.”

The exhibition space, called Exhibit 51, started out as a retail enterprise where Embroli and Kinkopf staged shows for other artists and promoted them. But they soon found that took too much away from their own artistic efforts, and today the space has become a showcase, open by appointment only, for their own works and those of a few artists they admire. One of the building’s tenants is a high-end furniture representative (the others include a financial consultant and a small advertising agency), and samples of his modern wares are included in Exhibit 51. “Having the furniture in there softens the space and creates a real environment,” says Embroli. “It helps to scale the work, and when collectors visit, it helps them envision how the work will look in a home.”

Embroli’s and Kinkopf’s studios are the stuff of artists’ dreams. “They’re 400 square feet each, with 20-foot ceilings, concrete floors, white walls, and lots of skylights,” says Embroli. And they’re devoted solely to painting; there’s also an adjacent 800-square-foot, two-story workspace where Embroli can focus on sculptural projects (he has two new bronze editions out, has been working with steel fabrication, and has a potential commission coming up in El Paso, TX).
Embroli is equally known for his two-dimensional work. His abstract paintings are guided by his spirit and intuition and are rich in texture and dimension. “My paintings are created in a two-stage process,” he says. “It’s a unique technique which I’ve been developing for many years now. First, I deal with the textural format. I map out my design, which includes a multi-media aggregate of resin, sand, and acrylic. Then I apply many thin layers of oil paint, glazing with a clear varnish in between each layer to create depth and translucency.”


Meanwhile in Kinkopf’s studio, the key words are conceptual, analytical, and detail-oriented. Her approach typically begins with research—reading, note-taking, and sketching—on whatever subject she has in mind for her next body of work. Her topics have included mythology, world cultures and history, nature, and psychology and sociology, she says. Once she begins painting, she’s inspired by the Italian Renaissance masters in composition, color, and use of light and shadow. Many of her works feature dreamlike scenes populated by carefully crafted, unusual characters. Recently, she says, she’s been “pushing the envelope with looser, large-format paintings,” including a series of monochromatic horse paintings.

“Even though our work couldn’t be more different,” says Kinkopf, “we’re always bouncing ideas off each other and having each other look at what we’re working on, from new ideas to individual pieces. We work separately, but we feel like partners in creative thought and work ethic. It’s some of the magic that makes us tick.”

Upstairs from the studios is the couple’s living area, a contemporary space with 10-foot ceilings. There’s a large, open kitchen with tile floors and granite countertops, plus an architectural steel dining table that seats 16, all of which are conducive to the frequent entertaining they do. And there are windows—lots of windows. “It was the one main element we included in every room,” says Embroli, and with good reason: The space offers stunning, 360-degree vistas that include the city of Albuquerque, the mountains, and the open space.

In the end, Kinkopf and Embroli couldn’t be happier with the results of their massive undertaking. “Getting through the building process was a challenge, but now we feel completely at home here,” says Embroli. “The building works exactly the way it was supposed to work.” Kinkopf agrees: “It was a long journey, but it made us better and smarter people,” she says. “It’s really enriched our lives. There’s an activity and an energy that this building brings.”

Olivia Pool writes about the visual arts in Charleston, SC

Originally appeared in Southwest Art - February 2008

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