Best known for his ceramic vases and teapots that combine current street art and cultural heroes with historic and traditional shapes, Puerto Rican American artist, activist, and educator Roberto Lugo will be showing some of his latest pieces in an upcoming solo exhibition titled The Gilded Ghetto.
Roberto Lugo Gilded Ghetto
Also known as “The Village Potter” Lugo is one quarter each of African, indigenous Puerto Rican (or Taíno Indian), Portuguese, and Spanish, with a few other things mixed in. Amongst his repertoire are ornate ceramic works that reflect his Afro-Latino heritage and depict stories and experiences of underrepresented communities. His works powerfully expand the voices celebrated within artistic context while simultaneously complicate the history of ceramics.
His use of traditional ceramic materials and silhouettes to critique race inequality, gang violence, poverty, racism, and injustice while also celebrating African American and Puerto Rican culture is similar, conceptually, to the artwork of Patrick Martinez.
In his upcoming exhibition, among other works, are twelve vessels whose size, shape and color emulate those of Classical Greece. The Greek-influenced giant urns, kraters and amphoras serve as a backdrop for both personal storytelling and cultural observances by Lugo.
The upcoming presentation is the artist’s first solo show in New York and marks an important shift as he moves further from representing important historical and cultural figures such as hip hop artists, politicians, activists and musicians in his art pieces toward sharing intimate narratives from his own life. While the iconography in his newest works is deeply personal, it has strong communal resonance, allowing it to be understood and appreciated from a range of perspectives and by a broad audience.
Roberto has been working in Greek-influenced black and orange pottery for awhile now. Below are a few examples of his earlier pieces:
Reframing the traditional color, form, and repetitive imagery of ancient Greek kraters, Lugo draws attention to the issue of violence that disproportionately affects people of color in economically disadvantaged urban communities, including violence at the hands of law enforcement.
In ‘The Gilded Ghetto,’ Lugo embraces an iconography deeply rooted in personal —yet profoundly universal— experiences to present 12 large-scale ceramic designs.
Here’s a close-up look at a few of them.
‘School to Prison Pipeline’ Amphora
“This is the story of many of us from innocent children affected by our surroundings to prison, all lead by an unjust society” – Roberto Lugo
Details (prior to glazing):
‘Cars on Blocks’ Amphora (prior to glazing)
Lugo uses the oversized vessels as a canvas to tell personal stories of his experiences, good and bad, growing up as an Afro-Latino in America, such as the one below.
“This amphora depicts the day I moved to a new neighborhood with a playground right behind our home. I got so excited to play baseball that I took my glove and went over and asked if I could join a group.
The all white group tripped me to the ground and put a bat to my face and one kid said “spics mow the grass they don’t get to play on it” something they must have heard from a parent.
Many of us have stories like this growing up but rarely are these stories told on a medium that is archival like clay. This piece will be in my solo exhibition “The Gilded Ghetto” opening in September at @randcompanynyc” – Roberto Lugo, Instagram
Central Park Amphora:
Somehow Captured Amphora:
The Gilded Ghetto features a wide selection of new work, including life-sized pottery, a monumental reinterpretation of the Peacock Room at the National Museum of Asian Art with new wall-mounted sculptural objects, and will be on view through October 27, 2023, at R & Company’s White Street location.
Vase shown at top (unglazed):
About the artist:
Roberto Lugo is a Philadelphia-based artist, activist, educator, and spoken word poet known for creating large-scale and ornately decorated ceramics that reimagine historic European and Asian objects of the medium. Lugo complicates the history of these works and the themes they represent – class, privilege, societal values – by creating prized objects that both depict prominent and ordinary figures of color and reference his own Afro-Latino heritage. The permanence of clay complements this mission, as Lugo’s works become lasting monuments to the history and culture of the disenfranchised. In short, Lugo elevates POC culture, community, and history, bringing attention to critical issues of inequality and racial injustice in the art spaces and institutions in which his work is shown.
Lugo holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Penn State. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, among others. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2019 Pew Fellowship, a Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Rome Prize, and a US Artist Award. His work is found in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Brooklyn Museum, Walters Art Museum, and more. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Tyler School of Art and Architecture in Philadelphia, PA.
Follow the artist on Instagram @robertolugowithoutwax