Artist Tina Lugo Explores All The Things We Don’t Say

By Rebecca Church

Few artists are as capable of expressing such a combination of whimsy, irreverence, and shock as Tina Lugo. Lugo’s art, inspired by everything from Saturday morning cartoons and comic books to video games and the Ero Guru Nansensu art movement of Japan — a name rooted in the concepts of erotic, grotesque, and nonsense — is both provocative and thoughtful. And if the rich detail of her pieces doesn’t speak enough to the depth of her talent, then perhaps knowing that her canvas is glass will do the trick.

Here, Tina discusses how all of the things we don’t “say” about sex, violence, humor, and relationships play out in her work and life.

Rebecca Church: What led you to this point, doing the type of art that you do now?

Tina Lugo: Following art school, I thought I could illustrate for the likes of Playboy, but I realized editorial wasn’t something I saw myself doing for the rest of my life. I wanted something that was a bit more expressive. I had to get creative. I narrowed it down to things I love: comic books, anime, and some tongue-in-cheek humor about sex. Sex is a very interesting concept to me. I asked myself, ‘How do I put this all together?’ I started meddling with these different ideas, adding in pop culture and other things that I was just really interested in, as well as adding an interpretation of personal experience.

And I love color. I just like the idea of making something that may be hard to swallow at first and these, you know, bubblegum colors that make it almost easier to visualize or to take in at first. It’s like whoa! Look at these pinks, look at these teddy bears, look at these hearts and pink everywhere, and then it’s like, ooh what’s happening here, like . . . that girl just got chopped up. What just happened? I love that kind of shock value.

Rebecca: I do get a sense of you putting this piece together and putting it out there and then just . . . seeing what happens; seeing the kind of reaction you get. That’s how I take it.

Tina: It really is — I totally agree. I love just really standing back and watching people react to my work. And it’s even better when people don’t know who I am; I am just kind of there and I can hear them talk about it: ‘Can you believe this, can you see what this artist is doing?’ And I’m just like, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty insane,’ just acting like I have no idea, and it’s really great seeing and hearing people’s reactions to it. It’s fun.

I don’t like to take art super seriously. I mean there are some serious components to it, but I never want people who are viewing my work to feel like they’re in a museum and they have to take every single meaning out of it. I just want it to be fun and engaging to just look at. Everyone can take something from it — not at all does it have to be super serious. I want it to be engaging.

A while back, someone said they loved my work because they felt that it talked about how we almost have a bit of self-hatred toward ourselves with the sex that we like and the things that we do. Many people are still ashamed after they masturbate. There are so many things that we almost feel ashamed about. Maybe that’s a contributing factor to why we don’t communicate or talk about it. There shouldn’t be any sort of shame or self-hate there.

Sex can be fun, funny, or fucking weird. Everyone has a different taste . . . some people can be very vanilla and don’t go out of their comfort zone and some people get turned on by very weird things like . . . rubbing balloons on their vagina. Like, how do you get to that point? Or fuzzies! And people who are turned on by being in animal suits! I think, How do you come to determine your animal? And how did you come to say ‘I like fucking someone in a raccoon suit’? How do you get to that point? And these things are just so interesting to me and sometimes just funny. And I like to elaborate on that in a fun way.

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Rebecca: You mention the fun approach you take toward your work, but there are a lot of elements that at first glance appear violent. Getting to know you a little bit, I don’t think you have a violent bone in your body. Can you elaborate on this aspect of your work?

Tina: People ask if I support violence against women. Not at all! That’s not a driving force behind my work. A lot of the violent content, in part, comes from watching a lot of intense anime growing up in which there is a lot of violent context. Some of it can derive personally from me not having the greatest sexual experiences when I first came out as gay and my first girlfriend relationship was not healthy at all. My work was a way to manifest my feelings and came to be the greatest therapy I have ever had.

A lot of women have expressed distaste for my work. It’s funny, a lot of people, if they don’t know who I am, think I am a male artist. They don’t understand why a woman would at all try and be or talk about or portray anything I am painting . . . Everything I am portraying comes from me. And in a way that’s why I don’t always approve of feminism, because I sometimes feel that they are trying to censor things that shouldn’t be censored. It should just be a bigger conversation, instead of just banning everything that they feel goes against it.

Rebecca: Your response brings up another topic: domestic violence. Within straight relationships, it’s hard enough to talk about, but I would imagine that within gay relationships it’s even more marginalized. Has that been your experience?

Tina: A bit. I mean, it was hard to talk about because the person I was with was just so charming and, you know, we had this ‘picture perfect’ relationship and no one could ever see what was happening or even think that a gay couple could have any sort of relationship that was anything but bliss. Gay men go through it as well and that can be very intense. I think it’s definitely more under the radar than in heterosexual domestic violence.

Rebecca: Right now, If you could wave a magic wand, how would you recreate our cultural ideas about sex?

Tina: I think a lot of it has to start with women. We need to show women that sex is not all one-sided. It’s not something that is purely done for a man, and I think I see too many young girls trying to please their boyfriends or trying to figure out how to keep a boyfriend. I think that just jumping into sex for that benefit isn’t going to work and I don’t think that’s a good way at all for our society to be going. And I think we need to tell people, young people, that sex can be great, it can be pleasurable, but there is a way to go about it. So many people don’t know how to communicate what they want. So many things are lost in translation.

So many couples don’t even talk about sex or what they want in the bedroom. What are we afraid of? Why are you so afraid to voice your opinion and thoughts? People really need to open that line of communication up. So many people don’t. And I don’t think it’s just necessarily heterosexuals who don’t. There are a lot of homosexuals that don’t talk about sex. Gay sex is a big thing!

One of the reasons I stayed in my first relationship so long . . . I just thought, well, maybe this is what love is. I kind of love her and she took my virginity and is this what it is? I don’t know what my friends are doing and I just know what’s happening here. And we don’t talk about it. And I carried that into my next relationship. I didn’t worry about my own pleasure or what I wanted because I was so afraid or just conditioned to think that I didn’t deserve pleasure from sex. I didn’t get it because everything was so forceful and not pleasurable for me. I was like NO . . . that is not what sex is.

I really wish I could sit down with a group of young boys and be like ‘EVERYTHING YOU’RE WATCHING on Pornhub right now is a lie.’ That’s not really how women are, that’s not really how the world is, that’s not really how sex is. These are actors, these are people who are paid to do these things, and about 95% of the women who are acting here are not really enjoying anything that’s happening for them, it’s just for a paycheck.

No one’s asshole looks like that. No one wants two dicks in there. They need to have a better idea of how to approach women, how to approach sex from a healthier standpoint. You should have a loving relationship, someone should want to please you on so many different levels — and that’s why I think it’s important to talk about it.

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Rebecca: Yeah, today it is seems almost to be the norm to separate sex from emotions . . . I think it’s super-dangerous.

Tina: I think it’s funny that people are so shocked to hear that I still have traditional values in many ways. Like, I still want to be married and I believe in not giving myself casually; I want to be in a relationship . . . You can be in a very committed, loving relationship and still be very erotic and kinky.

Rebecca: Exactly. So what formats/mediums is your work available in if someone was, like, I need to have this piece right now?

Tina: Well, right now I do a lot of prints and stuff like that. Valley Cruz Press . . . made a fantastic booklet of all my work . . . they’re thinking of doing a reprint. I do prints and work through the Cotton Candy Machine, a really cool gallery run by Tara McPherson. And hopefully in the future . . . there has been some cool talk between me and Mishka, which is a cool streetwear brand, so hopefully sometime in the future some people can get my stuff as apparel. That would be great.

Check out Tina’s website or follow her on Instagram.

This interview originally appeared in the debut issue of Sensheant, a new magazine devoted to “inspiring and supporting sexual fulfillment, empowerment, and wellness in the lives of women around the world.”

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