Tina Lugo is an artistic bad ass hailing from the Bronx, NYC. Tina’s work explores female sexuality and desire, filtered through the day glow lens of 1990’s cartoons, and the long tradition of Japanese illustration.
(Picture below of ‘But I’m A Sailor Scout’, a painting on plexi glass by Tina)
Tina’s work has been exhibited at ‘The Cotton Candy Machine’, ‘The Kinsey Institute’ and ‘Greenpoint Gallery’, with an upcoming exhibit at the ‘SHAG’ shop in Brooklyn.
With a huge 2013 behind her, and a busy 2014 ahead, now it the perfect time to get schooled on the goopy-violent-sexual-hyper-detailed-cartoon world of Tina Lugo, by reading the insightful and honest Art Talk below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Tina Lugo, born January, friday the thirteenth, 1989
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
Living in NYC in the borough of the Bronx, USA.
(Picture below of ‘Maximus’, a plexi glass painting by Tina)
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life ….basically trying to piece together Ms. Lugo’s pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, women, school, crime… ANYTHING ma’am.
* age 10 – beginnings:
At age ten I was eating up 90’s television.
Dragonball, Power Rangers, Looney Tunes, enjoying the likes of my Sega Genesis and Gamegear and the very first Playstation console.
I remember getting into my sister’s cassettes, The Cranberries being my favorite cover, along with Def Leopard, and I’d stare at Dolores O’Riordan’s face and fell in love. I stared at it every night and decided she was my dream girl.
* age 15 – getting serious:
When I was 15 I found the magic of Mindless Self Indulgence, Squee, and dark humor in general.
I started a high school comic called “Grapenuts” that was about the misadventures of a girl and a stuffed doll-who was sexually attracted to barbies, and how high school life turned out for the protagonist.
Hence, my sexual interests increased but weren’t in full bloom yet. ..until I had come across a deck of my Fathers pin up playing cards, filled with nude women in sexual poses and beautifully trimmed pubic hair…after finding that, my mind wandered and lusting after Sailor Uranus became so yesterdays crush.
* age 20 – adult mode:
It had been two years after my first sexual experience-quite late for most.
After it happened, I ran away crying so confused about what that meant. Was I an adult now? Did I have to throw away childish things? Was I now in some way claimed by this girl who took it from me?
Needless to say I felt that way, and so I dated her for 3 years. I had my first experiences with physical and emotional abuse, and then eventually dissapated into not speaking to each other for many years.
I had pain I didn’t know how to deal with, and it began to manifest itself in the violence of some hardcore Japanimation.
No one understood how a sweet-faced girl in a seemingly grand relationship had suddenly become so dark and haunted. I hid my true feelings through tongue-in-cheek humor, and finding the laughs in sexual conquests.
I grew a more healthy enthusiasm about it all and became fascinated by the taboo.
(Picture below of ‘Pillow Talk’, a plexi glass painting by Tina)
Life is too short to live in regret of what you could have, should have, and would have done…
So live in the now and just do it already.
Peaches, Etta James, Joan Jett, Garbage, Tears For Fears, Marilyn Manson, Queen, Styx, Ella Fitzgerald, -basically 90’s music and a flair for wishing I lived in the 1950’s.
Favorite TV show(s)?
Dragonball, Dragonballz, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Regular Show, Dexter, Powerpuff Girls, Masters of Sex, House of Cards, Sailor Moon, Zoids, G Gundam.
…just to name a few, I don’t wanna keep you here forever!
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
Yankees – I’m a bronx kid after all.
FC Barcelona, and the amazing team that was Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh in women’s volleyball. Volleyball will never be the same now that they are gone…
Pulp Fiction, Blood The Last Vampire (not that bullshit excuse for a new one they tried to filter through the masses), Scream, Akira, Amelie, Some Like it Hot, The Addams Family.
Favorite books and comics?
The entire Akira series, Tank Girl, Spawn, any novel by Mary Roach, Paradise Lost.
Favorite ‘other’ artist(s)?
Keith Haring – he was so amazingly inspirational, Kirby, Toshio Saeki, Takehiko Inoue, Jim Nutt, Gustave Dore.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
There’s so much work so little time!
There’s this idea of “how many shows have you been in?” , “how well does your work sell”, “who have you shown with?” all of that matters if you wanna get a leg up.
If you sell well, that’s good for business obviously, but if you don’t at least show with people or a gallery someone knows, no one will care much.
How far are your shows apart? How much are you are selling work for? It’s all very political in some ways.
You can apply to as many places as you want but since art is subjective it can be hard to find the right fit. I’ve also been invited to show with people who wanted me to “tone down” my work, but that wouldn’t be very “me” would it? But then you have to think how badly you want that opportunity and how well it will do for you.
Many factors are always involved. And of course that feeling that if you turn it down, some really bad work takes your place and you’re filled with that feeling of “really? THAT got in? I could have given them a better show then that…”
It really is a hustle. That’s a good word for it.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Getting fans who like the work.
I’ve been approached by random folks on the street or in an art store and they tell me how much they love my work, that maybe it speaks to them and gives them a fantasy so many individuals can’t express in real life.
I get a lot of fetish enthusiasts who admire me and have become friends of mine too. It’s a nice feeling to know that someone would want to get where I am, and i’m not even that far yet.
Art students asking me advice on how to go about the art world that i just stepped foot in, and all i can say is “keep trying.”
Talking to people about why they enjoy it is really the best part, to be that accessible and part of anyones inspiration, that’s pretty grand to me.
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
I consider it art, but people consider a lot of crap art.
I make it for me. People like it and want to buy it and want to show it, and thats good enough for me.
Everyone recycles from something. One of my first lessons in art school was that “nothing and no one is original. Everything you do has already been done by someone before you, the best you can do is take what they did and make it your own. make it better. Make it you.”
So really, i suppose most “art” is in truth, re-hashed crap.
(Picture below of ‘Coin Operated Girl’, a plexi glass painting by Tina)
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
I started when I was four.
I was satisfied with just a paper and crayons and not much else. I wanted to draw the cartoons I saw.
I yelled at other kids in kindergarden for not coloring in the lines or making tweety bird blue instead of yellow. I became obsessed with it. And I couldn’t stop. It was something that just stuck.
It wasn’t something I chose to do, It was choosing me and deciding my path for me.
In your interview with Grace Lang of ‘Cotton Candy Machine’ from earlier this year, you discuss your art school experience in a very positive light. Why do you think certain young artists are so suited to art school, and other’s not?
I think it’s a matter of affordability. I certainly couldn’t afford it but I knew I had to go.
My hero Keith Haring went to art school so I HAD to go too!
I think some kids don’t do well with instruction. They don’t have patience for the basics. To start from square one and actually learn how to see or see better then what you do now.
It’s annoying at first, the academic part-the figure drawing, the painting 101, doing the things that you believe have no place in the art you want to create. No one tells you that you need that discipline so you can go on and make whatever you want.
That’s really what its about. It’s making you focus. Making you push through. But it’s not for everyone.
Some kids can make it without school, granted it’s probably much harder because you won’t have the same background, the same help or guidance from people who have done it for years before you. I get it.
Some kids just can’t do it or don’t see the need. And thats fine. Blaze your own path for what works for you. It may be better than spending 4 years…or six, and not knowing what you want to do.
What did you draw as a pre-teen child?
I drew anime characters, my own cartoons. I watched cartooning shows, you know, the ones where that artist guy shows you how to draw these cartoon scenes with his crayons. I wanted to be like that.
(Picture below of a young Tina ready to kick some ass!)
What did you draw as a teen?
I did more figure drawing and outdoor scenes.
I was trying to expand and make myself draw whatever I could from memory. I forced myself to draw only in pen and no pencil to eliminate mistakes.
I was becoming more serious about my craft.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
Seeing Yuko Shimizu’s work my freshman year of College. I loved it. I wanted to be like her.
I was so obsessed with Japanese culture and ink work, and sexual undertones and she taught at my college!? I couldn’t take it. I had to be in her class, I had to learn from her, I had to be at that level some day. She changed me.
Then working with artist Nicolas Touron, he made me see color. Everything changed after that. Everything.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
I was going to be an illustrator. At least that’s what I thought.
But I began to hate it and I didn’t see myself in that world, and by senior year I freaked out thinking I had wasted my time. But when a professor told me I didn’t have to, that I could expand, there was always time, I started painting again. And when I did, Greenpoint Gallery took notice to it and gave me my first solo show, then suddenly I was being blogged about and put on websites.
I thought, hey, I can do this.
And once my work was selling through, I decided to make more and more and apply myself. I was nervous at first. I never thought I was good enough and watched others reap the benefits with work I thought wasn’t as good as what I had done. So I grew a pair of balls, and submitted.
I got into the Kinsey institute.
Then I badgered Cotton Candy Machine.
Now i’m getting invited to submit for shows. And it’s a great feeling.
Describe the method of making a ‘Tina Lugo’ piece? (dot point all o.k.)
* your plexi-glass work
Usually starts with an idea or a dream I have. I can be sitting on the train and suddenly a flash glazes over me and I see an idea unfold. I write it down immediately.
Then I start fleshing it out. It always starts the same-first the overall figure, then the background elements come in later. I let my hand do the talking. I don’t over think it. I don’t put a meaning to it that isn’t there. I let that develop on its own.
Sooner or later I’m just drawing and adding elements to this scenario that only becomes clear to me when its done. It could be a subconscious way of showing my anguish, a memory, a bad dream.
I ink it with permanent oil paint marker, so I know everything that goes there is meant to be there in some shape or form.
And then I paint it in with a sort of paint by numbers approach, with as many bright colors as I can think up.
(Pictures below of the progress for one of Tina’s plexi glass works)
* your sculptural work
I haven’t done any in awhile but I wanted to make it look like my paintings, glossy and colorful.
I usually start out with a basic figure- an old toy and put clay on top of that to work from as a base.
Once it’s sculpted out, I use enamel paint to seal everything in.
(Picture below of a sculpture by Tina)
* your illustrative work
Illustrative work is mostly in the comic realm.
There’s a few graphic novels I am working on for myself and it is mostly with female protagonists. There aren’t enough of those in most comic book literature.
I want a antihero. I want a a tortured soul who sees what humanity really is and chooses to to either save it or let it wither. Those are the kinds of things I like to explore.
The work itself is inspired by people like Frank Miller, that dark world we live in but never talk about.
I take from life, from retro sci-fi films, and outline a story from that.
(Picture below of an illustration on paper by Tina)
How did you come to develop your signature multi-layered, hyper detailed, spurting liquid, cartoon style?
It was a mixture of things. I was very influenced by Takashi Murakami, and enamel based painters.
I wanted to figure out what I liked. Since illustration was now out the window, I knew I had to sit myself down and think about who I was now.
So I made a list: I liked cartoons, I liked retro and contemporary animation, I liked sex, I liked bright colors, I liked comics, I loved Japanese mythology-so what did that leave me with? How could I blend that all together?
I just started experimenting with it all until I came into my own. from there I figured out what worked for me, what I liked and what others responded to. It was a process. But that’s how you find yourself.
I wanted to make work that looked like it was ripped from a splash page or even a pinup book that you wouldn’t want your mother reading. And that’s the direction I went with and stuck to it.
I wanted to be relatable. I wanted to be something relevant. I wanted to make things people could look at and laugh or easily recognize and not have to brood over for too long or take too seriously unless they really wanted to.
What are the best and worst parts of living and being an artist in NYC aka The Rotten Apple?
The best parts are definitely all the connections I’ve made. I’ve met great artists and amazing people.
New York, despite its grittiness, can make you feel like anything is possible. There is always a surplus of opportunity if you really strive for it. And if you can establish yourself here, it won’t really matter where you go from there. Transportation is always available, always 24 hours on the go. Nothing closes at a decent hour.
There’s nowhere you can’t go, no one you can’t really meet. It’s a total melting pot.
Now for the Bad and the Ugly: People can be isolated.
There’s crack pot artists peddling work trying to get seen everywhere you go.
Traveling around crowded subways is a chore, and there is rarely a moment of solace for the weary.
The cost of living is insane, and I work a regular full-time job and paint every night with minimal sleep, just to keep up with school loans and being able to eat.
I’m writing this interview on an over populated train car right now.
I work really hard. I’m a lower middle class citizen so I have no choice. In some ways it makes me humble, and that much more hungry for the opportunities out there.
But I think NYC won’t be my home forever. As much as I love it, and know it, being born and bred here, I want a better quality of life.
Is the rise of ‘art’ toys an indication of the changing nature of ‘art’? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much $$$ and time?
A bit of both I think.
I actually love it. It’s making us less serious, less grown up in a good way.
People are buying art. They are looking for the cool hip things they like and saving up money to buy it. It’s true dedication.
They aren’t art snobs, they aren’t concerned with what era of painting you are trying to replicate, they want something tangible. Something collectible and familiar.
I used to collect cards and toys and POGS. It’s a reminiscent pastime. And here you have artists making something that you can feel valuable for, make you feel like that 12 year old kid with his first Voltron toy again.
I don’t have to drop a million dollars or go to a gallery to experience art, I can see and own Ron English in this little cardboard box.
It’s another lucrative side of the art world that more people can get involved in and younger people especially.
Power to the nerds.
Odds n Ends
What role did toys play in your childhood?
Toys were my everything. They were my friends. They created stories with me. I had great adventures with them, conquests, forbidden passions, drama. All of it.
I was very devastated when my sister-ten years my senior, told me i had to grow up and forced me to throw them all away.
I had original Spawn toys, Batman series, hot wheels that would be worth so much right now, the original first set of power rangers….I had a lot. It still makes me cringe.
I was so afraid of what being an adult meant. It was so difficult for me.
(Picture below of Tina n some toys)
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Hmmmmm first crush eh? My very first crush was a boy ( GO FIGURE) and I loved him when I was four years old.
He was my best friend even if he didn’t think the same of me necessarily. After all we were 4, and what 4 year old boy wants to be around a girl all the time? He was just cool, and we had karate classes together. I just wanted to be around him all the time.
But once puberty hit…well, boys were not on the hit list anymore.
Which 1990’s era cartoon, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why? (Feel free to sketch a prototype as well.)
Patty Mayonnaise….or Daria.
Actually maybe Daria!!! Just that look of utter boredom and distain for having to be placed in one of your holes makes me laugh so hard.
However…Earthworm Jim would probably be more fun to play with….
(Picture below of Tina’s mock-up for a Daria vibrator)
Your art involves a lot of bodily fluids, and I mean a LOT… Care to explain ma’am?
I think it’s something so natural that people are so disgusted by. It came out of your body dude! Embrace it!
It makes people cringe, “ew he got cum on me!” well…what did you think would happen when he busts a nut?
Honestly. To me it’s just fun, and especially fun to draw and paint. So gooey.
I think it’s ridiculous how taboo we all get about it. It has it’s purpose, so use it.
Have you had any experiences with female ejaculation?
Yes! Funny story really.
One of my ex girlfriends desperately wanted to squirt so I looked up everything I could on the matter. I watched porn, I read men’s sex blogs, techniques, the works.
So one night, we got really into it, I’m on the G spot, and BOOM!! Like an absolute geyser.
Now anyone should feel so honored and like a total bro for doing this. I should get an award and place it on my mantle and tell other bros about my conquest….except that when she decided to burst like a high powered Nerf gun, it went directly into my eyes and burned like a motherfucker.
Sexual conquest gone wrong so fast….
Who would win in a fight and why: a redneck-male outlaw biker in town for the weekend Vs. an inner-city-takes-no-shit dyke on a bike? (Once again, feel free to draw the battle in all it’s violent beauty!)
Well I gotta go with the dyke on the bike. They already have that deep complex of no man needed – I can do this shit on my own!
So she wouldn’t give up until she pummeled your ass into the ground. And as a dyke on a bike, I’m sure she’s had to fight a few bros.
It’s not easy when some dude’s girl decides she likes oral from a girl better than getting it from you…
I’ve gotten into a few tiffs myself. So, I’m all about that inner city chick!
(Picture below of the dyke on a byke Vs. outlaw biker fight)
Does sex change everything?
It can. Depends on the situation.
I personally don’t have sex with anyone unless I’m seeing us go farther than that. I’m very protective of my body that way because sex can get messy (no pun intended..or maybe…) and it can confuse a situation.
To those of you who can fuck casually, more power to you. It’s not in my bag of tricks.
Despite what I paint, I’m very serious about who I get sexually involved with. And for me, sex changed my world. It became one of the last things to accomplish to be no longer a adolescent and full blown adult. It was the forbidden fruit, I had knowledge of something only adults did, and I couldn’t go back to being innocent. I couldn’t say I was a child anymore. My only regret was that it wasn’t with a more suitable partner for me.
Are you into kink culture at all?
I have many kinky friends, and it intrigues me.
I love the look of shibari, and appreciate these things that people can take. Their physical and emotional tolerance is phenomenal and should be commended.
But if you were to tie me up and beat me…you and I are gonna have a serious brawl when I get out of these nipple clamps!
No, It is not for me. I enjoy a more than healthy sex life, some role play, but I am not on that level in any way.
What are your thoughts on the cute n colorful sex movement that is ‘furries’?
It freaks me out…it’s like teletubbies having sex on stage…I love it though. I think it’s hilarious.
I’m so in awe of these fetishes we get into as human beings. Why? Why do you wanna be a raccoon fuckin a donkey?? TELL ME!!!
It’s so bizarre and immensely entertaining.
(Picture below of ‘Bear Trap’, a plexi glass painting by Tina)
Who is the best looking contemporary artist?
In terms of perfect line and color, Takashi Murakami.
In terms of actual looks? I have the hots for Marina Abramovic…don’t know what it is, but her work, her vision, she’s such a babe to me.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
You had to catch me when I actually was having a sex dream? Couldn’t be the night I had a knife fight with Cameron Diaz, or the night I was on a train that kept missing my stop? Had to be now didn’t it?
Well, I suppose your blog and myself, are far from PG-13 so here goes your erotic porn literature for the day:
‘She smells sweet. A light musk like the dew left on blades of grass in the early dawn.
She doesn’t say much to me as she lies me on the bed, only that she’d take good care of me.
I had pined for her since the first time I had met her, her light eyes glowing with appeal and perhaps something more. Her red lips parted and licked my earlobes softly.
I motioned to touch her but she said “don’t…you are only watching tonight.”. She lifts her shirt and unveils the pink skin I had only seen flashes of before from her midrift tank tops that she wore around the house. She straddles me and makes me swoon, only to know that this is mine.
She has wants for me and me alone. In this I revel at the thought. How I’ve waited for her embrace. How I’ve waited to be loved by her, and here she sits, atop my thigh, lowering herself on the tips of my fingers…’
Good enough for ya lovelies?
What does feminism mean to you?
I don’t always like feminism- and by that I only mean what it has become. Women using it as an excuse to censor art, or in someway prove we are better than men. That whole battle of the sexes shouldn’t be a battle. We each have our own center of balance, have our own purpose. We were born different for a reason.
When it comes to what it should be about: our equality, equal pay, equal rights under the law, education, employment – fuck yes I’m all for it.
Even the art world itself is a very man dominated world. But I’m not the type to say I can paint better than a man, or do gallery shows better than a man- no. I just want to be in the same swimming pool.
Once feminists get on me about my work, my violence towards women, I try to explain that this is not specifically a violence towards women. I’m painting women of a fetish realm, of a bdsm society, of a dreamscape where this is more if a sexual deviance that they are taking part of somewhat willingly. No one is being raped. No one is being pinned down and forced to participate- all my female figures are in contract with me playing a role.
Even the men I paint are sexually aroused by the flogging they get.
So no, in that sense I don’t jive well with feminists, especially those who I think have become extremists and lost sight of the finish line.
If you were going to offer a crash course in the female body, to classes of 12-13 year old boys, what would it involve?
I would want one of those $5,000 sex dolls. I’d prop it up and say “This is a vagina and probably what it would feel like. This is not a real woman, no real woman looks like this. This is what the world wants you to think, but the ideal woman is not a porn star….anyway, I’m digressing, here is how a woman’s body works…”
The majority of young tweens in NYC have seen much worse through the glory that is Youtube.
What is your favorite part of the female body?
TOUGHIE! I’m an ass girl at heart. All about that sway.
But a real woman’s beauty to me is how her pubic hair trails around her lips and feels against your nose.
I am not a fan of a woman who wants to look pre-pubescent. I like the fur. Trimmed of course, don’t put me in a forrest blindly! But that part she wishes to open up to you, is quite a wonderful thing.
Have you ever tried psychedelics of any sort? And what was the experience like?
Nope, my only vice has only ever been beer or wine.
Other then that, I’m pretty straight edge, I don’t ever wanna mess up with the mechanics that my mind already possesses…and I think I’ve done good enough without them so far.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
A few I can’t really mention. But some of which are with this great company known as Von Zos.
They do amazing things with artists, so I should have a few sweet things coming out with them, as well as the amazing people at Valley Cruise Press…expect some awesome zines.
Any major projects you want to hype ma’am?
I am working on a new series now, “1,000 ways to die” very much a ultra violent, bloody mess of a splash page type work, school girls with samurai swords, bigger mythical beasts, and more vibrant color.
I’m so excited about it actually because it will border the lines of horror fantasy and not so much sexualized ones, although people find sex in many things, and it won’t be completely void of that. But very much a harder approach on Japanimation and manga inspired.
N.B – pics of Tina and her work thanks to Tina Lugo + ‘The Cotton Candy Machine’.