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When Tension Meets Tradition, with Lino Lago

When Tension Meets Tradition, with Lino Lago

In Lino Lago’s “fake abstract” paintings, classical portraiture peeks out from under blankets of modern hues, showcasing what happens when the traditional crashes into contemporary. In this episode of The Cultured Podcast, Lino calls Michelle from Spain to share the methodology behind his work. With translation help from his son, Nojus, a conversation spanning languages, eras, and epochs takes place, unpacking the power of both tradition and revolution. Listen to this episode to witness the theme of tension move from art on canvas to the perspectives offered within this very conversation.

Read the episode transcript below.

In Lino Lago’s "fake abstract" paintings, classical portraiture peeks out from under blankets of modern hues, showcasing what happens when the traditional crashes into contemporary.


Michelle Khouri  0:00  
What does it mean to capture an innate sense of conflict in every stunning piece you paint? Well, that’s what we get to know from Lino Lago on this episode of The Cultured Podcast.

Welcome to The Cultured Podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Khouri. And together, we’ll journey into the unknown reaches of the art world.

Hello, my babies. How are you? But, like, really, how are you? How are you? (crying sounds) I’m you know, every day, every minute, every hour, you never know what it’s going to bring. Although I kind of have come to expect every day to bring some sense of, let me not spoil it but, tension. And speaking of tension, we talk a lot about that with Lino Lago on this episode of The Cultured Podcast. And I had no idea that what he calls his fake abstracts, which is what he is known for, he is known for these stunning canvases with these super bright colors and these very detailed classical portraits under those blankets of cobalt blue or millennial pink. I had no idea that those were meant to represent the clashing of the traditional and the contemporary, the innate conflict that’s constantly ongoing between what came before us and what is here now and what is to come–which, you know, is hella poignant. Hella poignant right now. Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this conversation is the fact that Leno and I kind of sit on different sides of the spectrum. Like, he is very much devoted to tradition and sees like a strong place for tradition and the adherence to tradition in our society. And I am more of a revolutionary. I mean, it’s much more the second I was born, I looked at everything around me and I was like, “Alright, these systems gotta go.” I was like three years old, like, “How do we change this?” Like even growing up, my mom would be like, “Don’t put your elbows on the table. That’s rude.” And I was like, “Says who?” Who made up these rules? You know what I mean? So there is, appropriately, tension between Lino Lago and my perspectives. And that was fun. That was fun. Because, you know, at the end of the day, I think we’re both devoted to art. And the way we define that even is different. So stay tuned. I think you’re really gonna enjoy it. He is such a darling and also this is the first episode that we have done translation for so Nojus, Lino Lago’a son, joins us on this episode of Cultured and translates for his dad, who is Spanish and was in Spain when we recorded this. So I hope you enjoy that. Before we get into the episode, what’s inspiring me this week is not going to shock you. It is tension. And there’s just so much about this episode that feels so poignant. And tension is one of those things. And I have to say I, like probably many if not most of you have been feeling an ongoing sense of tension this entire year. And it has been a mounting sense of tension. So not only has it been an ongoing, constant, ever-present tension, but it’s also what feels like a building tension. You know, that’s an inspiring thing. I mean, it doesn’t have to be negative. Sure, it feels icky, and it feels uncomfortable, but I think it is through tension that we’re able to discover the parts of ourselves that have been hiding, the parts of ourselves that need attention, right? And it’s that inner work. It’s almost like tension is a radar that helps you identify within your body what you need to deal with. What has gone unchecked? What do you need to work on? What do you need to address? Right? And I think it is that tension that alerts us to our own sense of self and our own sense of self worth, any traumas, any gushing wounds that we have within ourselves. Because it’s usually those gushing wounds or untreated hurt, that enable the sense of tension, right? And that amplify it. That’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot because it’s easy to push and fight against the tension. But the truth is, I don’t think any of us can escape it. So we might as well allow it to be a tool for our own growth and our own healing and we might as well allow it to be a teacher. It’s not meant to be an enemy. It’s meant to be a teacher. And speaking of tension, let’s get this conversation rolling. I think you’re gonna really enjoy it. Leggo, Lino Lago!

Bienvenidos! We’re doing something a little bit different with this episode of the Cultured Podcast. We are traveling to Spain. Galicia, Spain, or Galicia. I guess if I’m pronouncing this correctly. Spain. And we’re talking to Lino Lago and we also have a very special guest who has been extremely kind and helpful throughout this whole process. And that is Nojus, Lino’s son. I’m going to let you say your full name. Because I immediately forgot how to say your last name. 

Nojus Mugenis  5:39  
Yeah, yeah. No worries. It’s weird. My name is Nojus Mugenis. That’s how it’s pronounced in Lithuanian, which nobody should attempt. It’s very difficult.

Michelle Khouri  5:50  
Okay, thank you for that. That actually makes me feel better. And then we are here with his father who is the subject of this beautiful conversation that we’re about to have, Lino Lago. Bienvenidos, Lino! 

Lino Lado  6:03  

Michelle Khouri  6:04  
So today, we have Nojus with us because we are actually going to capture Lino in his first language and the language that he dominates better than English, although he’s a great English speaker. And that is because art is an expression of our spirit. It’s an expression of our hearts. And to be able to express that in your fullness in the most comfortable language you have is really important. And so Nojus is going to be translating. I think, Nojus, you speak, like — how many languages do you speak? 

Nojus Mugenis  6:32  
I’m in the process of learning my fourth language, which is French. But, like fluently, I’m fluent in English, Spanish and Lithuanian. So three languages for now. 

Michelle Khouri  6:45  
Perfect. So for our next Lithuanian artists, we’re going to call you.

Nojus Mugenis  6:51  
Sure. (Laughter)

Michelle Khouri  6:52  
Okay, so, Lino, let’s get started. Why don’t you give us just the overview of who you are, and how you would describe your art form?

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  7:02  
I like to present myself as a painter, first, before saying I’m an artist, because the term artist can be too convoluted. Maybe it can be too over representing of what I’m doing. Because if you say that you’re a painter, you know, exactly which, like, expressions and which area of study, he’s actually committing through arts. And artist is just too wide of a term. 

Michelle Khouri  7:29  
Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’ve actually never heard anyone express a preference, but you’re right. I mean, it’s about specificity. Because art, truly, I don’t know how to define it. I don’t know what is art and what is not art?

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  7:46  
Well, it is a complex question. Many artists would say that it is too abstract maybe to try to define art itself.

Michelle Khouri  7:56  
And speaking of abstract, that is actually part of your own work. You know, and what makes your work so special to me is that it is abstraction but also specificity. It is a juxtaposition between the classical and the contemporary. And so you know, to describe your work, I’ll try to describe your work and then you can correct me or chime in however you feel. But basically, there are these striking and large-format, I mean, they’re fairly large canvases on the whole that are color blocked with like a bright blue for instance, like a bright cobalt blue, which is just striking. And for the human eye, blue has this like incredible effect on us. But then there’s like, it almost looks like there’s a finger that has just swiped through it, like you know, zigzag through it. And where that finger has zigzagged through, there is an incredibly detailed, incredibly beautiful, incredibly technical, classical portrait, typically of a woman. And there’s just something so, to me looking at your work, it’s playful, it’s joyous. But it’s also a little bit cheeky, you know, like a little bit facetious. So, tell us how you landed on that style. It’s so specific, Lino. 

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  9:27  
Well, these paintings as you say, the play part abstract part realistic game fields. This has always been reflected in my older pieces as well. Most of my pieces contained like a small detail that did not seem to fit in there. But does this like fake abstract name is a variation of my own older collections that have always been a juxtaposition of the abstract and the realistic. In very few words, what I try to express is that a simple style isn’t enough to represent the days we live in. This I require a battle between the abstract and the realistic, which can be found as a conflict in many of my works, since, for me, it’s impossible to pinpoint a singular style to unify these two, like, very different subjects and to unify everything that we go through in our modern days. Under a singular umbrella, it’s almost impossible.

Michelle Khouri  10:33  
It is. And I’m wondering just hearing you talk about this conflict and capturing that sense of tension or conflict in your work, if there is a sense of release or therapy for you in working on these paintings. And if the works themselves come from a point of inner conflict for you?

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  11:02  
I wouldn’t define it as something therapeutic for myself, which is very common to hear from many artists like art as a therapy. But this idea to me isn’t very understandable. Like I see art in a more of a scientific light. And just using such a word as scientific might seem weird, or it might not fit in the artistic world, but these days, art has been inflated with this, like, mysticism or, like, weird aura surrounding it. And I like to stray further away from that and be more grounded in the basis of like pieces that I create.

Michelle Khouri  11:44  
Hmm. It really is the first time I’ve heard an artist say that. And I’ll admit that I’m one of those to romanticize art because I think the reason there’s so much psychology in it is because it comes from within us. There are cave paintings from the earliest known records of humanity and human history, pre-historic really, there wasn’t even history then. And to me, that signals that it is a deep compulsion to express ourselves through art. And so I think that it is a lot of artists, especially visual artists, the best way they know how to capture their feelings in any given moment or express their pain or their joy is through their art form. So it would make sense that it is, as you put it, contaminated with the psychological aspect. But what I’m really interested in is your desire to be grounded and scientific through art, which actually, painting in particular is basically all chemistry. I mean, the way you mix paints the way that you apply paint to a canvas and have to prep a canvas and then have to seal the painting. That’s all chemistry, right? And so I want to know a little bit more about how you see art as science.

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  13:18  
Well, I can give a couple of examples from my views. In the psychology let’s say we refer to the emotions. If art affects your feelings, you would just enter headfirst into a definition of art as a more hedonistic and pleasurable way of experiencing reality instead of the aesthetic. For example, you can listen to music and experience the same pleasure, but to prioritize feelings in art might lead us to irrationalism. It could lead us on to a search for pleasure which decreases art toward a simple state of like a psychedelic substance that only gives you an emotional feeling for a while, as nice visuals. The Sistine Chapel, for example, it wasn’t built for just feeling good or looking nice. It was built using techniques that were developed throughout ages of use. It was built for political, social, and religious reasons. And all of these matters have a much more serious tone and character and then just emotional aspects. We can not talk about Shakespeare, about just its emotional aspect. He’s an individual that, all of his creation was built up by the existence of the English Empire. And the whole political and social matters that had surrounded them. Or a pyramid in Egypt, it isn’t just the triangle. It has political, social, and geographical reasons for its existence. And it definitely wasn’t easy or pleasurable to build. 

Michelle Khouri  15:09  
I think that’s fascinating. That is so interesting, Lino, because there’s a few things that came up for me as you were talking about that. Number one, pleasure and pain can coexist. And pleasure and protest or pleasure and politic or technique can coexist, which I think is key because there has to be a semblance of fulfillment. I’m realizing that like the term pleasure is so broad, and so beyond the most obvious which is just like, “Yay, I’m making art!” And it can be more guttural and it can be more, it can be deeper, and there can be pleasure expressed through finally voicing anger for instance. Right? I think it’s so interesting because I have, I do, and have romanticized art, and even the process and the hard work that goes into it, I think is really easy to romanticize and maybe, to put some psychology into this, maybe that is partially a survival strategy, right? Romanticize the stuff that’s really really hard so that you don’t stop doing it or get scared of doing it. But I find it a very realistic and pragmatic perspective that you bring and it’s refreshing to hear someone be like, no, it’s not about pleasure. And it’s not about hedonism. And it’s not about the romanticized part of this. It’s about hard work. And it can be grueling and can be painful. And I think it’s all very, very relevant. I mean, this conversation just happens to be so poignant at this point of time, especially me being in Atlanta, Georgia right now, because the tensions across the world are high, but especially the tensions in the birthplace of the civil rights movement, when we are going through a modern-day civil rights movement, there is just tension everywhere. And I think that’s why your words about pleasure versus hard work or the grueling nature of technique and form and expression is really hitting home for me right now. Because I’m realizing they can actually coexist. Right? We are in these moments of tension, we’re all exhausted, and we wish things were better. But the bottom line is they’re not. And there is a sense of pleasure being derived in seeing some sort of progress being made through protests, through the grueling painful work of activists.

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  17:52  
You mentioned romanticism. So we’re like reliving the romanticism that was born in the 18th century. And we’re reliving it in a very interesting way. Since before it has passed over Nietzsche, it has passed over Marx ideologies, even the Marcuse, Kant, but today we live in a like a very romantic epoch, which is even encouraged in our universities and our schools, educational facilities everywhere. And it doesn’t really suit artists very well, depending on what you do. But artists today are seen as shamans, as something more mystical than they actually are. And even museums are said to be our modern-day temples. It gives like artists this weird, this not very practical approach to explaining what they actually do, that they have to connect it to emotion a lot. And I’m critical with this, I do not to be, I do not want to be somebody’s contact with the spiritual, I do a very basic thing, which is to create beauty and something that looks aesthetic. So my paintings are very beautiful to look at, and I do not reject beauty or aesthetics in art. I do not reject the aesthetics but I want to be known for something that I do. For the fact that I paint paintings, not for connecting with some type of emotion or spirit. 

Michelle Khouri  19:53  
Everything we just talked about really gives me a lot to think about. Now I want to talk about something more grounded, which is your process. First, why don’t you tell us about the process of coming up with the ideas and the inspiration. 

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  20:12  
So, in this newest series fake abstract. I did what I always do, based myself in tradition, and I do things in very different ways. But in this latest series, the word fake already says that we need to be careful while interpreting these pieces. So, tradition is so important to me, I would say even more important than our modern lifestyles, thus I like to maybe visualize what is modern with what is fake in my artwork, while contrasting the beautiful traditional paintings that are hidden underneath with something that is abstract, such as like the color that is coating over the painting. So this series is trying to visualize how we might see even ourselves as something that is not correct, we might have the wrong interpretation of ourselves, we might see the aspects of ourselves that are fake as the ones that are important without noticing the beautiful traditions hidden underneath. So I think that today there is a constant fight with tradition and with who we are and who we think we are. And this conflict is inevitable. It’s what I’ve been always working with, utilizing various symbols, various symbol sets, and the original classic pieces tend to crash greatly as a symbol against what is supposed to be abstract or modern in my work. These two like they tried to overpower each other, but they can also synergize pretty well. But if we’re not careful, we might get a narrow short circuit, we could say, thus not allowing us to categorize these subjects, clearly. And this further intensifies the conflict and presence since human evolution was the thing. Well, where we might give wrong terms and definitions to reality and this might lead us on a journey of romanticism and mysticism where people don’t think without clouding their views or letting themselves go completely with their feelings. This shouldn’t be the sole purpose of art. Yet, we might get a neuro short circuit, which might not allow us to categorize these subjects clearly or do to not categorize them clearly and this would further intensify this fight between what’s traditional, and what makes ourselves us, like what we learned throughout life. So this is just part of the system of the human evolution. And if we give wrong terms and definitions the reality of conflict while clouding our views, and letting ourselves go completely with our feelings that would mess with the basis of our understanding of what’s aesthetic and what’s necessary for us. Today in these modern times, we’re experiencing briefly the counter clash of the traditions that we inherit from our family here and parents and groups of people we live with and the things we pick up and we count as the modern world. We have to very carefully analyze our internal mentalities and how the traditions might have formed them, or how we are formed by the tradition, and how they function and maybe dysfunction dependently in the modern world, how they might even be applied. So my conclusion would be that we’re more made up of traditions, than any revolutions in our society. I mean, it seems very evident like, like the evolution of humanity’s morale, where we, we constantly live in a state of conflict with what is classical and what is modern. And people think that to be an artist today you need to go against which is classical. But that is not necessary. Like you can still pursue art and base it on classical methods and techniques and still do wonderful things. Or you can base yourself purely on abstract while not retaining any of the beauty. But the point is that there constantly seems the needs to be a state of conflict in art, especially in my own art.

Michelle Khouri  24:44  
I mean, I think the dynamic between the traditional and the modern is really interesting. And I also like that you and I are talking about this specifically, Lino, because I am at my core a very revolutionary person. And I believe in our power as humanity to dismantle the things that don’t work, the systems that don’t work for humanity. Okay, so for instance, I’m a revolutionary because my great grandfather was an actual revolutionary in Guatemala. I’m an entrepreneur because my grandfather was an entrepreneur in Colombia. I’m a feminist because my mom was a feminist before feminism was a thing. I owe a lot of who I am to my ancestral lineage. I disagree, at the same time with a lot of the traditions held by my ancestral lineage. And I don’t want to prescribe to those traditions because I don’t think they are in favor of harmony and union and the greatest possible outcome for all of humanity. I think there is a constant tension, inherent tension in embracing the parts of your lineage and traditions and societal traditions and classicism or technique, to apply it to arts, that feel right, that connect with you, but then also reinventing and revolutionising the parts that don’t feel right. And perhaps the tension is that we doubt ourselves, there is just such a dualistic nature to this world where humans think that it’s either this or it’s that, when again, I do think that being traditional and observing, acknowledging and even honoring traditions of the past, while also seeking to change them, dismantle them start something new can coexist. And in fact, those two concepts do coexist in your own art. Right? And so there is this tension and yet union. There is the duality and juxtaposition and yet harmony of those two things in your very work. That’s what I find so interesting.

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  27:19  
Well, I’m completely agreeing with what you say. We live in this state constantly, especially now. What is going on in the streets in the USA or the electoral campaigns or even the little conflicts we tend to have at home, we constantly live in a state of battle throughout history. And even revolution is part of this. There will be no revolution if there is no conflict of interest. Therefore, there is no tradition. If there is no tradition there’ll be no revolution against it. I also do not see any validity in the vision of an artist as a god or creator. It is simply a drive to create something that is beautiful, and I also reject the idolization of an artist as a spiritual guru, they only see him as a person with a very advanced technique and skill set acquired through his life and his traditions. Humans, we are constantly in an endless cycle of creation and destruction and creation and destruction. But what is most interesting is that humans tend to create more than they destroy, especially the artistic types and the people who wants to actually do something better. They tend to create. Every single person on earth is actually creating at every time in life, not just artists. 

Michelle Khouri  28:43  
That is beautifully put, Lino. I completely agree. You know, I’ve been having a lot of conversations recently about how cyclical and predictable human beings are. I mean, if you look back on human history, you see that we’ve sort of done this same thing over and over and over again. And it just looks a little bit different throughout history. You know, I think that the act of creating is absolutely something that we all do on a continuous basis. But one thing I’m grateful for is that you are creating very specifically via painting, because it brings me a lot of joy. And, you know, I know that there are thousands and thousands of people who look forward to your specific style of creation. Little did I know, you know, I saw beauty, I saw pleasure and then we get on this amazing call and we get to talk about the levels of depth and the technical side of things. And so it’s been such a joy, getting to know you and your perspectives, Lino, so, thank you for that. Before we sign off, why don’t you tell us where the Cultured Crew can find out more about you, can follow your progress, and can keep experiencing this sense of tension within your work. 

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  30:00  
So thanks a lot. And my work can simply be seen on my webpage or check out my Instagram which is also LinoLago or even visit physically the gallery is that I work with. Those galleries can also be found on the section in my website. 

Michelle Khouri  30:22  
Amazing. Bueno! Thank you, Nojus. Thank you, Lino. The whole Cultured Crew loves you and appreciates your time today. Thank you. 

Lino Lago (translated by Nojus Mugenis)  30:34  
Well, thanks a lot for having me. It was a great experience. Thank you.

Michelle Khouri  30:45  
Well, there you have it. I mean, listen, if you thought by tension, I meant that he and I were going to be fighting the whole time aren’t you just the most surprised little cookie in the world? Because it turns out we love each other. See, you can disagree and totally appreciate one another. Okay? Alright y’all, we will catch you for the next episode-episode-episode. Until next time, keep it classy. Keep it curious. Keep it Cultured.