I’ve been an abstract painter for decades. When I began producing digital photographs about six years ago, it was with the goal of pushing them away from traditional photography and a little closer to painting.
To do that, I needed to find painterly tools within the software that would enable me to make brushstrokes akin to those in my oils, acrylics, and watercolors.
These florals, from a series called “Disgruntled Elites,” are more commonly known around the studio as “curious flowers.” As a lifelong fan of vintage horror and science fiction movies of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, I simply can’t seem to fully accept the way anything in nature actually appears—I need to modify things in some manner in order to make them otherworldly.
I wanted the “Elites” to have the strangeness of the fictional Tibetan Mariphasa lupine lumina that functions as a temporary antidote for lycanthropy in Werewolf of London (1935), or the countless odd botanicals that sprout on other planets in sci-fi movies.
It’s a type of thinking that I apply to all my work—to throw the viewer a bit off balance, either with abstract forms that are vaguely suggestive of things in nature, or with natural forms that have been changed just enough to give them a sense of wonder and mystery. The “Elites” are in that latter category. They should be wondrous and a bit ominous too.
Think of it this way: If you produced a straightforward photo or a painting of a rose, the viewer would bring all their knowledge of a rose—the texture of its petals, the sharpness of the thorns, its fragrance—to the picture, and any mystery about the subject would go out the window right then and there.
A rose can certainly hold its own in the real world or in any art medium, but I’m a typical artist in the sense that I make the kinds of images that as a viewer I like to look at. I enjoy odd little twists, so I put odd little twists into my curious flowers, and everything else.
The flowers were all photographed in my home state of New Jersey. Altering them as I do, in whatever measure, is like transferring them to other worlds and letting them evolve in strange environments under different conditions—new specimens to challenge our established concepts.
—About the Artist—
Joe Lugara took up painting and photography as a boy after his father discarded them as hobbies. His works depict odd forms, inexplicable phenomena, and fantastic dreamscapes, taking as their basis horror and science fiction films produced from the 1930s through the late 1960s. He began creating digital paintings in the 2010s; they debuted in a 2018 solo exhibition at the Noyes Museum of Art in his home state of New Jersey.
Mr. Lugara’s work has been featured in several publications and has appeared in more than 40 exhibitions in museums and galleries in the New York Metropolitan Area.