John Tolley, May 23, 2017
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.