At the most recent Space.88 show, a frequent and very popular gallery event created in the apartment of VCUarts students Max Runko and John Stavas, one of the most talked about pieces was the ambiguous “Barfday,” a piece by Sculpture major Nicanor Lotuaco. The name itself is a play on words for what the actual product is; you see a pale face in a birthday hat suspended in the air from a pedestal of orbs protruding from its mouth.
There is something about the formation of the orbs that almost gives the viewer the impression that it’s still dripping wet. Slightly disturbing meets a strange level of comedy in this sculpture. It’s this small amount of childish softening through comic relief over a more adult topic’s lens that has made this piece and others by Lotuaco so powerful, dynamic, and intriguing. What is perhaps most refreshing about being able to speak with this great artist in person about his work is the clear humility he carries, and the effortlessness that comes with his process.
Ink Magazine (IM): So, gonna start off with something basic, when did you first start making art, and
what originally got you interested in it?
Nicanor Lotuaco (NL): So when did I start making art? Well I’ve always kinda been making stuff,
but I guess I actually started making art my senior year of high school. I didn’t take of those classes
throughout high school, and then I just needed an extra credit, so I went into an art class. I really started
to like it and I was really good at it… wasn’t really good at school. Normal school, I mean. But I kinda
decided art was what I should study in college. So that’s how I ended up doing that.
IM: Ha, to avoid normal school? That’s hilarious.
NL: Yeah, exactly.
IM: So what’s your backstory, then? Tell me a little about where you’re from, family… and does that sort
of influence your work at all?
NL: Well I grew up in Virginia Beach. I have a sister, she’s a dancer, she’s about to graduate from
Marymount in New York. I think she wants to do Broadway. My mom did design and fashion studies
here at VCU, and my dad also went here, and studied film. He’s a video production man, so he makes
commercials and whatnot. So they’re all pretty supportive of art, because they all did it.
IM: Alright, well what led you to come to VCU specifically?
NL: Well actually… it wasn’t art that led me here. It was golf. Because I played golf in high school, and I ended up making it on the team here. So I came here, played really bad, and then I got kicked off the team two weeks later, ha. So that’s pretty much why I’m here. I was going to go to University of Tampa in Florida.
IM: So when you first got here were you actually doing art through Art Foundations as well as doing golf at the same time?
NL: Yeah, and that was actually hell, that schedule. I would have to wake up at six in the morning, go work out, go to class which was like three hours long, then practice for three hours, go to another class, do all my projects, go to bed. Then wake up at six again and repeat… I had no energy, I was dead all the time.
IM: So then within AFO, when did you decide on sculpture, and what were your other two choices?
NL: I didn’t decide on sculpture until the very end of it. I don’t know, when I first came I thought I was going into Graphic Design or something, and I took a project class in sculpture. I made this armchair thing… and when I was younger I was always making things and going online looking at how to build things… I’d make paper guns and stupid things like that. I’ve just always been good at putting things together, and building things. And I just decided, “That’s probably the best thing for me,” because I also didn’t want to work for someone, and have someone else give me their ideas to do. I like doing my own thing. And I think sculpture gives you a lot of freedom. My other two choices were Graphic Design and Painting/Printmaking.
IM: Right, so what sort of things serve as inspiration for you in your sculpture work, and can you kind of unpack that a little?
NL: What serves as inspiration for me? (Laughing) I don’t know. That’s sort of a hard question for me… because I make things, I kinda never know what I’m doing. I just sort of start, and then everything falls into place for me. I think that “nostalgia” is something that influences me though. My work always tends to look “little kid-ish,” I don’t know why it does that, but it just kind of always ends up that way. Also, when thinking of objects, I always picture the ABC’s… ha, like those charts with the ABC’s on them. I always try to think more about the picture that would go next to the letters, like an umbrella, or whatever. So that’s what I guess “inspires” me.
IM: Within your body of work then, based on that idea of nostalgia becoming a pretty uniform part of your work, would you say you notice any other recurring themes or motifs?
NL: See that’s the thing… Whenever I make things, I don’t really try to go for any certain look, but when I finish making them they just always end up looking related. I can’t seem to break out of this weird, sort of creepy, playful but serious sort of nostalgic style. It just happens, no matter what I make.
IM: It sounds like you’ve just already developed a style within your work then, right?
NL: I guess so, yeah! It probably is.
IM: Do any of your pieces mean something in particular?
NL: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t really like to put meaning to my pieces. I more like to make things that seem as though they have meaning, and see what other people think of it. I always think that’s interesting, what people have to say about “what they think it means,” because it actually doesn’t mean anything. It’s pretty funny.
IM: So your work provokes a lot humor for you personally as well. It seems like it’s pretty cohesive in its humor, and playfulness, as well as exploring that nostalgia, then. Can you tell me if you think your work has changed at all compared to where you started?
NL: It definitely has. I mean for starters, I didn’t even make things like sculpture when I first started making art. I was just drawing, and not even from imagination, I was just seeing things and drawing them. That’s kind of all I could do before. It wasn’t until I came to AFO that I started to challenge myself to think deeper than that. I had no idea what the hell I was doing in AFO. I didn’t know what to expect, and it was pretty intense, but I think that really helped me… it made me find myself, as an artist. And…
well this is something… but when I was in high school, I did make pipes and… things like that a lot. (Laughing) And I made them out of almost anything, like light sabers, and other weird things. That’s where I got really into making things I guess.
IM: Ha, that’s actually really funny. Very creative. Now, in terms of any future work or projects upcoming, what do you have going on?
NL: Well I plan for over the summer reworking a lot on my kaleidoscope project, because I wasn’t really satisfied with it. And I’m never really completely done during a critique, I feel like I never have enough time to do any of my work, and you’re kinda forced to be finished at a certain point. But I never really feel completely finished. Future plans; well I really like building machine-like things that can do stuff, like the hugging machine. I was thinking about maybe making a spanking machine or something… something, something.
IM: So what do you think drives you to make your work, personally?
NL: Well I think I really just get random impulses to make things. I’ll be at home, and I’ll be bored, and I think, “I need to make something.” I just always need to make things,
and I’ve always needed to just like, have something to do with my hands. It’s sort of an escape for me to build and make things, because I can easily get really focused on what I’m doing and just trance out and not think about anything but that. I think I need that personally, and like I said, it’s an escape.
IM: What do you think makes your work, and the way that you work different from other people, both in your own department, and from other artist overall?
NL: Well I think the most noticeable thing for me is that when I see other artists they try to plan out their work a lot. They draw a lot out on paper and figure themselves out and decide on what to do before they even start I guess. And with me, I just… start. I might draw something that looks nothing like what I actually make, but I start with one basic idea, and I just try to make decisions and figure the project out as I go. And things just sort of luckily fall into place for me. Whenever I need something, I’ll go out and look for a random object, and find something, and it’ll always be perfect for what I need. It’s always just absolutely perfect, and I don’t understand it, but it all just falls together into place. It’s very lucky.
IM: Okay, so last one. What do you want your work to say or do for its viewers?
NL: Well I really like humor a lot, so I want to make people laugh. At the same time, after they laugh, I want them to be able to see it for what it is and take it seriously as art. That’s kind of weird, I guess because they seem like two separate things. It’s funny, but it should also have something else there. Anything, I don’t know, whatever they find in it. Just something… something, something.