Growing up in the Kensington area of Philadelphia, Lugo’s introduction to art didn’t come from museums or galleries, but from the graffiti he saw all around him in the city. As a teenager this was his first outlet through art making.. His parents are the first generation in his family to make the trip from Puerto Rico to the mainland and Lugo often remarks on the hard work and perseverance of his family as a source of inspiration. While attending community college he took a pottery class and was first introduced to wheel throwing. He would later go on to obtain a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Penn State. Mentorship is a key component through both his studio practice and through his tenure as a professor of ceramics for Tyler School of the Arts.
Roberto Lugo’s work often focuses on ceramic vessels that reference traditional European and Asian decorative arts, blended with iconography from Afro-Latino heritage and Hip Hop culture. His surface treatment is a mixture of traditional design, graffiti, and portraiture focusing on representation of iconic people of color from contemporary culture and history, creating space for conversations around key themes of equity, access, and social and racial justice. “I put these stories on pottery because pottery lasts forever, its how we know about cultures past and I refuse to have our stories forgotten.”.
In Put Yourself in the Picture, Lugo’s large scale mixed media sculpture commissioned for his GFS exhibition ‘Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter’, he leaves the central space open, creating a platform that allows visitors to interact within the center of the work and providing a moment for visitors to celebrate their individual uniqueness in a monumental way. This sculpture references patterns and themes that occur throughout Lugo’s works, including references to blue and white Chinese porcelain, African Kente cloth, and Lugo’s series of black and orange vessels inspired by Greek kraters, focused on policing and mass incarceration. Fabricated in partnership with The Seward Johnson Atelier and the Digital Atelier, this work presented Lugo with a new avenue of working, on a scale not easily achievable with clay, presenting the opportunity for the artist to expand his practice in new ways.
Lugo’s work has been featured in many private collections, exhibitions, and museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Brooklyn Museum. His solo exhibition at the Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore received international acclaim, earning a spot in Hyperallergic’s “Top 20 exhibitions of 2018”. In 2021 Lugo was selected to participate in a newly designed Afro-Futurist period room installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Before Yesterday We Could Fly. Lugo is a recipient of numerous awards, most recently including a 2019 Pew Fellowship, a Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Rome Prize, a USA Fellow Award, and in 2023 was awarded a Heinz Endowment grant.