Interview with Jo-el Lopez

Jo-el Lopez is a resident artist at Newark’s Gallery Aferro. His work has regularly appeared in Tri-state area exhibitions at The Bronx River Art Center, The Center for Contemporary Art (Bedminster), Rutgers University- Newark, New Jersey City University, Kean University, Rupert Raven Contemporary, and others. His work is also part of The Newark Museum of Art and The Zimmeri Museum of Art collections. The following is our interview with him about art and life in Newark.

Where are you from originally?  What brought you to Newark?
I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Paterson, NJ. I was part of the art scene in Paterson, for several years until I read an article about the thriving Newark art scene. Curious, I visited Aljira Gallery and Index Art Center Gallery when they both were on Broad Street and I found the guests to be friendly and engaging which made a great first impression. It wasn’t until I visited Gallery Aferro’s art auction that I really started to see all the great things happening in the city of Newark.  Additionally, I talked to several art creatives like; Evonne Davis, Jerry Gant, Rodney Gilbert and others who spoke highly about the Newark scene and its future.  Feeling comfortable and accepted as part of the tribe, I decided to join the community and started contributing. 

How would you describe your work/artistic vision? 
My work focuses on the older tradition of icon making. I use the visual storytelling of traditional realism; combined with my own multidimensional contemporary urban experience to convey complex commentary on the intersection of faith and modernity. My vivid and compelling work draws the viewer in and engages them with my interpretation of social justice issues that plagues our society. In other words, I paint what I think people should focus on: accepting to some, disturbing to others.

How has living in Newark inspired you creatively?
Besides being in walking distance to my studio at Gallery Aferro, I am close to the Newark Museum of Art (free admission to Newark residents).  Its collection is one of my daily inspirational tools in conjunction with the lively artistic scene that allows me to interact with different forms of art and artists. The influence of all of this leads to inspiration. It’s easy because Newark is in the midst of a renaissance, a destination for artists and enthusiasts. 

Any idea of what your next projects might be? I am working on two separate projects. The first is a series of paintings titled “Filthy Lucre,” which focuses on how mass incarceration and organized religion are similar based on exploiting the community of color in order to stay in business. The second brings art into the community via a temporary art installation project where community artists paint images on ten doors installed throughout Washington Park in Newark. 

Where are some of your favorite places in Newark to hang out and why? 
The Newark Museum of Art is a major collection, ranked 12th nationally. Some days I lose myself spending hours viewing the works of different artists there.  When I want to be around creatives, I visit our local galleries like Gallery Aferro, Index Art Center, Project for Empty Space and Akwaaba Gallery. It allows me to interact with other artists, talk to them, and see their current projects.  

You can follow Jo-el and his work here:

Instagram: jo_ellopez

Featured image by Stafford Woods