Roberto Lugo: Boricua, Barrio, Barro
Ceramic artist Roberto Lugo brings his potters wheel directly to the people of North Philadelphia in his first solo exhibition at Taller. Boricua, Barrio, Barro (Puerto Rican, Neighborhood, Clay) is Lugo’s homecoming show to the neighborhood he grew up in and pays homage to the creativity and resourcefulness to the men and women he knew.
This unique show foregrounds Lugo’s creative process, transforming the gallery into a studio. Lugo will establish connections with the public as he shares his artistic process and vision. The exhibition highlights an essential aspect of his work: the acknowledgment that he is a person of color who has escaped the confines of poverty and racism through his introduction to ceramic art. This realization is as much a characteristic of his nature as it is of his art, and it is what he believes binds him to those who share in his lived experiences.
In Boricua, Barrio, Barro, Lugo transforms the gallery into a space for the community, where the artist presents himself as an alternative of what is expected coming out of the neighborhood, one of the poorest in the city. During June and part of July, the artist was at work in the gallery. All visitors are encouraged even when the artist is not present to explore his studio, shape clay, or sit and ponder the artwork.
The gallery showcases four works of his that are not as well known as his porcelain pots: two prints and two ceramic reliefs. His circular relief, New Slave: The Cycle Continues(2017)is a self-portrait of the artist outfitted in jailhouse orange. In the upper right region is his Robske tag, his graffiti name. The artwork is a mix of styles that incorporate the designs found in Hellenic pottery and Renaissance art. The work is part of his Della Robske series, which is a play on Luca della Robbia’s name, a Rennaissance artist known for his terracotta sculptures. In making himself the subject of the piece, he brings into focus assumptions about class and race, “high” and “low” culture. Alongside this is another work from the Della Roske series, José and Child (2017), that is based on the portraits that the artist’s brother took with his son wearing large gold chains. Again the work is a combination of classical European art styles with contemporary urban figures.
The prints are also self-portraits, as well as a retelling of recent traumatic events in the United States. Panda: Eats Shoots And Leaves(2017), where the Panda is the artist, represents the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin. In this depiction, Martin and his assailant are depicted like figures from Ancient Greek pottery. The patterns displayed on the panda itself are a joining of both classical Asian and Greek motifs. In this work, the panda is the witness to the horror of Martin’s murder, and classical art motifs are replayed across time and space. In the print New Slaves (2017), the artist is depicted again dressed in jailhouse orange and with Asian and European classical art imagery. But on closer inspection, we see references to the police shootings of unarmed men that we find in the news. There are also graffiti tags and one in particular of the Wu-Tang Clan. The print calls to mind the tradition in the arts of chronicling contemporary and historical events. In New Slave, the artist is both the consumer and the victim of culture.
Born and raised in a Puerto Rican household in North Philadelphia, Lugo is a master potter, social activist, spoken word poet, educator, husband, and father. An Assistant Professor at Tyler School of Art, he is represented by Philadelphia’s Wexler Gallery.
Roberto Lugo: Boricua, Barrio, Barro on view through oct.27 at Taller Puertorriqueño, 2600 N. 5th Street, Philadelphia, USA.