Joe Lugara is ecstatic to have his first exhibit at the Noyes Gallery at the Claridge, where his latest series of photographs will be on display.

Thing is, Lugara isn’t a photographer.

“I’m a painter first, and a photographer not at all,” he laughs. “I’m an abstract painter who paints with photography. I use Photoshop as I would brushes on a canvas, to make images that are both abstract and representational — paintings without paint.”

An abstract painter since the age of 11, Lugara decided to learn Photoshop about two years ago. He claims the program, which has brushes of different sensitivities and subtleties — “it’s no different than using a paintbrush” — relates more to his painting than it ever would with his photography.

“It’s a case of having a photograph available that I can manipulate into something painterly. I have no great obsession for technology. I didn’t get into this to be trendy or to catch up. I started working in it because it seemed a worthwhile extension of my painting practice,” Lugara explains. “I work from anything. I take photographs blindly. If I get a color or texture that’s interesting — I use that as a jumping off point — even if I shoot my cat, for instance, it becomes something entirely different than my cat.”

In his digital work, like in his paintings, Lugara strives to convey his opinion on happenstance, which he calls “the big boss.”

“I firmly believe that we live under the thumb of happenstance, of chance,” he states. “You could walk outside and a tree branch can fall on you and that’s it.

“I feel like I have to give the viewer something that seems like it’s from the real world, but it falls short. If I painted a rose or a daisy, the viewer brings his or her own experience to that image and any mystery goes out the window from there. But if I bring you something that looks something like it — maybe it is, maybe it isn’t — it puts the viewer on unsure footing.

Joe Lugara

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“I’m on unsure footing when I’m in the real world and I want them to have an element of uncertainty when they look at (my work),” he continues. “If it were real ... would they reach out, would they want to be there? It could be curious and attractive, but that’s a heck of a lot different from being safe.”

This fascination with happenstance and chance stems from a pit bull attack nine years ago, during which Lugara’s painting arm was severely injured.

“When it was happening, what could I do? You can’t reason with it (the pit bull). Reasoning goes away,” he says. “I want to undermine the viewer’s reasoning with the sense that they are under the forces of happenstance and chance. I want viewers’ reasoning to go away, in a subtle way and (have them) questioning.”

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