Roberto Lugo

Roberto Lugo, The Village Potter

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The Village Potter, a vibrant new installation at Grounds For Sculpture features ceramics master Roberto Lugo’s hybridized interpretations of Black cultural icons. 

Originally a graffiti artist, Roberto Lugo evolved into a ceramicist and 2D artist who combines hip-hop, history, and politics into his work. Using classical pottery forms and portraits influenced by his North Philadelphia roots as the son of Puerto Rican parents, Lugo explores themes of poverty, inequality, and racial injustice.

Roberto Lugo Grounds For Sculpture
Roberto Lugo, “DOOM Pot”, 2022, ceramic, 34.5 x 22 x 22 inches.

“Pottery doesn’t have an existing relationship with the community that I come from,” Lugo explained during a press preview. “There’s a history — my African, my Puerto Rican, and my Indigenous ancestry — they used to make pottery, but then somehow, when we transitioned to the United States, and it’s like we’re all the laborers or the people who take care of other people, and don’t have the free time and be able to have access to pottery. So now, I can access it because of all the things that people did for me, and so now trying to get back and make it so successful for the people who come after me.”

Roberto Lugo not only holds a BFA from Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Penn State, he is also a professor at Tyler School of Art and was awarded the Rome Prize for 2019 and has exhibited throughout the country.

Lugo added: “I kind of want people to see the relationship between domestic objects, and the things that people can use every single day, as well as the sort of larger pieces that are more about presentation — and this history of the aristocracy, the wealthy people can afford a commission these pieces, but then also, they get to decide what goes on the pieces. And so the difference is like now the way that history is presented itself, I now have the opportunity to have the autonomy to make it work. So, I can choose what to make, but also to choose what to put on there. And so that might seem like, no pun intended, but jarring to people or like a juxtaposition. But in reality, it’s just a very traditional form of pottery making.”

Lugo’s exhibition runs concurrently with Fragile: Earth, an exhibition of works in partnership with The Color Network, whose mission is to advance the careers of people of color in the ceramic arts through community-building, events, exhibitions, mentorship, and other resources. 

Roberto Lugo Grounds For Sculpture
Salvador Jiménez-Flores, “La vida cósmica de un nuevo mundo que está por venir / The Cosmic Life of a New World That Is Yet To Come”, 2022, brass, cast iron, rose gold plating, brass hose, and clay slip, 180 x 180 inches.

Organized by guest curator Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy, the 16 artists were selected through The Color Network, by curatorial invitation, and through an open call. United by their ceramics practice and inclusive of a myriad of social, cultural, economic, geographical, and ethnic backgrounds, the featured artists are Natalia Arbelaez, Robin Williams Turnage, Ashwini Bhat, Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Syd Carpenter, Adam Chau, Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Magdolene Dykstra, April Felipe, Raheleh Filsoofi, Salvador Jiménez-Flores, Anabel Juárez, Anina Major, Jane Margarette, Mariana Ramos Ortiz, Virgil Ortiz, and Sarah Petty.

“As a platform for contemporary art and artists, Grounds For Sculpture amplifies the diverse voices and visions of those working in the field today. This spring, our focused look at the underrepresented medium of ceramics shines a light on artists of color firing a new future in clay,” said Gary Schneider, Executive Director of Grounds For Sculpture. “The new partnership with The Color Network expands our commitment to fostering an open community of artists and brings their compelling works to the forefront of the contemporary conversation on sculpture.”

Roberto Lugo Grounds For Sculpture
Roberto Lugo and DJ Mosart212 with Lugo’s “Put Yourself in the Picture”.

The opening night audience was treated to Lugo’s spoken word artistry, along with DJ Mosart212 who was set up inside the potter’s enormous 20 by 27 foot tall sculpture, “Put Yourself in the Picture.” The piece, created and fired on-site, allowed visitors to interact physically with the piece, as evidenced by the amount of selfies and photos taken.

“I started following Roberto Lugo during the quarantine and his work is so interesting and his focus on people of color, particularly, is so interesting,” said textile artist Betty Leacraft at the event. “And with him being a person of color, I felt that he was doing some major breaking of barriers and cracking some ceilings in the medium that hadn’t been that known for potters of color. And the fact that he has remained true to who he is and where he has come from is very refreshing.”

During Lugo’s residency at GFS through the winter of 2022, visitors of all skill levels will be able to explore the medium of clay in a drop-in maker space within the exhibit gallery.

Grounds For Sculpture will host Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter and Fragile: Earth this season until January 8, 2023. To ensure entry on weekends and holidays, advance tickets are recommended and can be purchased online

Images: David Michael Howarth Photography, Ken Ek, Bobbi I. Booker

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