Have Paintbrush, Will Create

Jennifer Lugris is turning her talents into a career


Jennifer Lugris

Jennifer Lugris is at her best when she has a paintbrush in her hand. Unable to stifle her artistic inner self, Lugris began taking art courses in Los Angeles, eventually moving to the Bay Area to dive headfirst into a program that would give her the knowledge and skills to turn a passion into a career. Recently completing the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Visual Arts, Lugris counts herself as one of eight students accepted into UC Santa Barbara's Master of Fine Arts program—"all thanks to my experience at Extension."

Looking back on her experience, Lugris is enthusiastic about the support and direction she received from her instructors. Notably, she remembers:
Glenn Hirsch: "In my first course, Color Theory for the Visual Arts, Glenn really inspired me to continue with painting. He's a wonderful motivator. He just really encouraged me to protect my artistic spirit and to nourish it and give it what it needs to grow. When I first met him, he looked at my works on a phone, and said, 'You should quit your job. You should be an artist full time.' I felt really inspired; I never had someone tell me something like that."

And Francesca Pastine: "She gave me the most direct feedback. She really contributed to me thinking like an artist and being able to answer these questions in my head that would create better work."

Most recently, Lugris has participated in solo and group shows throughout California. She has exhibited her artwork in several California venues, and has entered the M.F.A. program at UC Santa Barbara!

I make my paintings mysterious to allow people to meditate on them and reflect on what is happening.

Let's talk about your paintings and your upcoming show. First of all, why death row portraits?

My father is from Uruguay and my mother is Korean, but she grew up in Argentina. When they were growing up, there was a military dictatorship and a lot of people "disappeared." Human rights abuses have always interested me, especially when the government in power can use that political power to commit such abuses.

I first became interested in incarceration and the death penalty when I served on jury duty in Alhambra, Calif. It was a murder case with two African-American men who were about 25. That got me really upset because I was thinking about the statistics that one out of three African-American men will end up in prison. I started researching incarceration in California.

What do you hope to accomplish with this exhibit?

I'm having a panel presentation with three women who have taught or are teaching incarcerated or formerly incarcerated men and women. I really want to raise awareness and highlight different programs that are trying to help get rid of stereotypes.

How did you come by this particular form of your paintings?

I have three different series going on. First, I painted children with the last words of death-row inmates. And then I wanted to do something for people who had been recently executed. So I started painting unfinished portraits of people who were executed in 2015. I also really wanted to do something about California: Since the death penalty was reinstated, there have been 13 people executed in the state. And I'm painting them and finishing their portraits where the borders of California end.

What do you hope people get from these paintings in a gallery setting?


Freedom by Jennifer Lugris
Freedom by Jennifer Lugris

I don't want to influence people to think one way or another. I make my paintings mysterious to allow people to meditate on them and reflect on what is happening. Just having these paintings to kind of be a tap on someone’s shoulder: 'Hey, let's not forget that this is happening in our neighborhood.'

How has your education inspired you to create this wonderful art?

My first course was with Glenn Hirsch, Color Theory for the Visual Arts. He really encouraged me to protect my artistic spirit and to nourish it. When I first met him, he looked at my works on a phone, and said, "You should quit your job. You should be an artist full time." I felt really inspired.

Pamela Lanza was also fantastic. She nurtured another artistic side of me. I credit Francesca Pastine with giving me the most direct feedback. She really contributed to me thinking like an artist and being able to create better work. Amy Berk has just been so encouraging. She has so many great connections in the art world. And she's always passing these ideas on to us and encouraging us to meet these wonderful people and go to galleries. All of them have shaped my work in a wonderful way.