Lugo developed a portfolio of work that earned him a scholarship to School of the Art Institute in Chicago, but he couldn’t afford to stay. He moved back to his parents’ house, found a kiln on Craigslist, and installed it in the garage. Since there wasn’t a proper outlet there, he would move the kitchen stove at night and plug the kiln in at night. It was at that point that he started combining graffiti aesthetics with the historical pottery he studied.
He would go on to earn a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute, and after undergrad, he began giving lectures on pottery and activism. In 2014, he finished the MFA program at Pennsylvania State University, and has since gone on to have his work shown in exhibitions in galleries and museums, while also serving as a professor. A new show of his signature vessels (including a human-sized urn), titled “Jarring,” opens at The Delaware Contemporary on May 26th.
In March 2017, Lugo was among 45 artists to receive a United States Artists grant, a $50,000 unrestricted stipend. He gave a stirring acceptance speech (with a spoken-word cadence that he attributes to listening to his father’s rhythmic sermons), and later explained that he’s using that money to help buy a house, where he’ll have a studio. “It’s allowed me a lot of flexibility in terms of the way I work,” Lugo says.
He acknowledges that there’s a gray area when it comes to making and selling his work, which at times raises the complex issue of portraying other people’s experiences and political struggle for profit. “If I’m just working off of what I know could sell, then my work could flow into this sort of exploitative part,” he explains, “because often I’m paying homage to people.”