Roberto Lugo is one of three artists participating in the Juvenile in Justice exhibition, November 8 – December 12 at Crane Arts.
You mention in your bio that street art was a big influence on your career as an artist. What’s your favorite piece of street art/favorite street artist?
The mural “Common Threads” by Meg Saligman is my favorite piece of street art. I saw this on bus rides to work when I was younger and although it was a mural, seeing it on the street reminded me of the possibilities that graffiti could achieve.
My favorite street artist is still Banksy. As popular as he’s become, it’s his combination of humor to serious subject matter that makes his work so profound.
You’ve studied in Kansas City, Chicago, and Philly. How did your time in each of these cities help define your path as a ceramicist?
In Philadelphia I didn’t take any art classes. Growing up all of my experience came as a graffiti artist in the streets. I didn’t really consider what we were doing art, more of a right of passage.
My time in Chicago was brief but I felt a sense of culture shock being surrounded by so many artists and reading and discussing things I thought no other humans felt.
In Kansas City I really learned why learning a craft is so important. I was taught by some of the most talented artists in the country and my peers were world class as well. I always have found content to be the easiest element of my art but how to get what I wanted to say across has always been my biggest barrier. In Kansas City I focused on clay and how to say what I wanted alongside developing a skill set that really helped me advance my cause.
You mention in your artist statement that your work deals with difficult personal subjects, but yet you also approach your pieces with humor. Do you feel that ceramics allow for a different way of expressing humor than other mediums?
In some ways yes I do feel as though clay helps to provoke humor. We are accustomed to what pottery is supposed to look like and any deviation has a tendency to catch your eye. I love the idea of taking historic vessels that were made for kings and substituting their faces for mine. It goes back to my experience with graffiti, tagging over someone else’s work, but in this sense I am tagging over a history that I feel is unjust. The humor is in the irony of placing the face of a minority on a piece that would never have allowed that during the era it was originally made.
How did you get involved with Juvenile in Justice?
Richard Ross came to Penn State University, where I attended as a Graduate Student, and during a critique we built a rapport. I stayed in touch and Richard felt a show in Philadelphia was the perfect venue to display what could happen if many of the children that are discussed in the book were to have a chance at an education in the arts.
Can you tell me about some of the pieces you’ll have on display?
Most of the work is porcelain, a material I enjoy working with because it has a history of being used for the upper-class. I am using historic forms as a reference and covering them in imagery that is personal to me: illustrations of my family, self portraits, and graffiti. I am also displaying many iterations of my work, including painting and installation work.
How does your mission to bring pottery to inner city students tie in to the Juvenile in Justice exhibition?
I believe it comes in my physically making work and sharing it in a space that is only blocks away from where I grew up. I am creating a wall of cups that I hope people will feel comfortable approaching and handling. A little bit of time from my life is captured in every piece I make and when someone holds it I feel I share that experience. I don’t think growing up I ever got to hold a hand-made cup. I am also allowed a time to converse with a group of children from my area and I think this conversation will bring my life full circle.
What are you hoping that people will take away from the show?
I hope that people take away that I want equality for human-kind. There is too much separation in class, race, gender and religion. I hope to share my experiences in the hope that people will empathize and relate. The more we can understand each other the less likely we are to oppress one another. I feel strongly that many of these children are in prison because this is the path that society has set out for them. I was one of them, forgotten, and now that I have set out a life for myself it’s time for me to tell my story in the hopes that there can be more artists showing their work only blocks away from where they grew up. Overcoming adversity, de-facing adversity.