Penn State alum shapes powerful pottery: BTN LiveBIG

Penn State alum shapes powerful pottery: BTN LiveBIG

A potter, a poet, an activist and an educator.

Roberto Lugo operates across a multitude of media. But the Penn State alum (MFA ’14) is best known for his work with ceramics, wherein he marries the decorative flourishes of Victorian-era forms with art and imagery that speaks to his upbringing.

Born to Puerto Rican migrant parents in the economically-depressed Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Lugo didn’t always see himself as an artist in the traditional sense of the word. Largely self-taught, Lugo filled composition books with early sketches, participated in lunchtime “battle raps” in high school and expressed himself through “graffiti” in the alleyways of his city.

Eventually, though, Lugo’s artistic journey led him to the strange shores of ceramics. He was, admittedly, drawn to the alien aspects of the medium; it felt too expensive and delicate for someone like him to work with. But in ceramics Lugo found a connection to generations of potters past who have elevated the very earth we all walk upon to high art.

Today, Lugo infuses his story and his experiences of adversity, racism, resourcefulness and triumph into a unique brand of pottery. His vases, urns and pots pop with color and lines that evoke the spirit of the city and the vibrancy of immigrant communities. Celebrated on his works are people like himself: poets, artists, rappers, activists, people of color, the marginalized and oft-forgotten. There’s Sojourner Truth and Ol’ Dirty Bastard; Celia Cruz and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Rafael Cordero and Kalief Browder.

In many ways, Lugo sees his current work as the natural extension of his youthful endeavors.

“Today my graffiti is defacing adversity. I am a composite of my experiences,” Lugo says in the artist statement on his website. “My experiences as a poor, brown kid from the ghetto are my 22 years of research which inform my version of Puerto Rican American history. With my education in critical theory, art education, art history, and studio art, I have developed a studio practice that fluidly communicates with diverse audiences. I bring art to those that don’t believe they need it to see it and engage in deeper ways of knowing, learning and thinking.”

Below are just a few of the powerful pieces of pottery Lugo has produced.

“Within my work you can see notes of historic forms of decorations as well as graffiti and portraiture. I often pay homage to people of color that wouldn’t normally be used as a muse for an urn.”

“I began as a graffiti artists and often would sign my name with a crown. A symbol I didn’t know began with Basquiat”

“I see the teapot as an opportunity for two people with opposing views to sit down and engage in a conversation.”

The original Century vase was made for the 1876 worlds fair in Philadelphia. The original inspiration was to represent a century of the innovations of the US. I make century vases in order to cover different elements of history such as a century of incarceration.”

“The original Century vase was made for the 1876 worlds fair in Philadelphia. The original inspiration was to represent a century of the innovations of the US. I make century vases in order to cover different elements of history such as a century of refugees.”

 

A cooler by artist Roberto Lugo.

“40 cooler is a porcelain bowl that follows the form and history of the wine cooler. My work aims to represent my inner city humble beginnings. Often folks would drink 40 ounce beers and pour out some for those that have died.”

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