Color and Vitality in the Work of Joseph Lofton

Guest of Honor at the Campeche Cultural Festival

In May of this year, I had the honor of leading a guided tour of the exposition of the master Joseph Lofton, for officials from the Department of Culture of the State of Campeche, who were visiting our organization. I was witness to how they grew fascinated with the vigorous and colorful work of this artist and New York native who has lived in Cuernavaca for the past 15 years. Through the Institute of Culture of Morelos, Lofton has been invited to exhibit his work at the Cultural Festival of the State of Campeche, with all expenses paid by the host government.

I hope we can appreciate the importance for our state of being able to display the fine arts that are created here in other places , especially in the case of the master Lofton, whose work contains a truly innovative approach in terms of the technique that he employs: this consists primarily of acrylic on canvas, highlighted by a collage of his own creation, which he achieves by painting certain elements on another canvas which he then cuts out and pasts on the already painted work, or by creating small layers of acrylic paint, which he shapes into their desired form before applying them to the canvas. He uses flat but bright colors. The lines are simple and unabashedly sensual: the range of color and the collages are perfectly defined.

“My vision is contemporary and consists of a variety of themes, which range from landscape to still-lifes and the human form.” Joseph Lofton

I am quite familiar with Lofton’s work, having written critiques of his paintings and curated the retrospective that I referred to above; in my humble opinion this invitation is more than deserved. Although they have been mentioned before, it is worthwhile highlighting some of the characteristics of his work.

Lofton’s work has a quality that is unique in our dramatic 21st Century. The color, the shape, the composition and the theme create a harmonious unity which invites us to smile and to understand a world saved by humor.

Whether based on mythology, the Bible or human landscapes, he finds a playful meaning which he wraps in his creative ability, to produce a fantasy that is almost naive. Despite the apparently simplistic result, one senses a profound knowledge of volumetric deformation; a rich pallet, which does not shy from the boldest contrasts, in which merely one element is enough to restore balance to what would otherwise be chaotic. This is thanks to his natural talent and solid academic foundation, acquired in the Art Students League (1948-1954) and the School of Visual Arts (1971-1972), both in New York.

In order to more deeply understand his work, we must begin by understanding the era in which he studied and developed. During his first years as a painter, the realism of his work acquires a hyperrealistic perfection, a period which is amply justified by the evident perfection of shape and the compassion of his current work. From the mid-1950s to the end of the 1970s, he goes through over a decade of abstract expressionism, a result of the abstract tendencies in the fine arts scene in New York of the time. Later on, he produces protest paintings, among which the strongest and most powerful is one related to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Nevertheless, his protest is not obvious; his work is rather an intellectual meditation which does not sacrifice artistry in favor of discourse.

Sometimes, life leads us to return to a path that had apparently already run its course. It is thus that in 2005, Lofton returns to the themes which identified him as what is often referred to as a “committed artist”. With the sharp eye of a young man, but the security of an older one who does not fear the reaction that his work could provoke, he has become a critic of his times. War, the lust for power, the cult of money, are the themes which run through his current artistic endeavors.

From New York to Virginia, and then to Mexico, where he settles in Burgos, a development outside of Cuernavaca. Each day, in his studio, he creates his characteristic pieces full of enchantment, freedom and color.

Without a doubt, this geographic and artistic pilgrimage illustrates for us a long and fruitful search for his own language, which transforms his work into a reality.   “Painting is a means of communication – he says – and if you don’t manage to communicate something one way, you have to try another.”

It is obvious that Lofton’s work reveals his great love of life. I dared to tell him, after seeing all of those smiling visitors as they took in the exposition that was being held at the Workshop-Museum-House-Studio of David Alfaro Siqueiros, and later in the Benito Juarez room of the Borda, that it all made me think that the world is a better place with his work than without it. He smiled as he graciously accepted my compliment, and replied: “Mine has been a happy life, that is what I think when I am painting, and that is what I put in my work, the joy of painting.”

We hope that maestro Lofton is able to transmit that message of joy to our Campechano brothers, and that his passage through that land is a resounding success.