During his early period Michael Lucero made composite sculptures using hundreds of thin, hand-made tiles which were attached to wire frames. Often these would be human figures, but sometimes animal forms. Already in these early works, one can see combinations of human/animal, culture/nature, architecture/organism that have remained an element in Lucero's subsequent work. In his next 'Dreamer' series, Lucero made Pink Nude Dreamer, which consists of the head form that Lucero repeatedly uses for this series. It is decorated with a range of painted scenes reflecting Lucero's early undergraduate training in painting at Humboldt State University in California. Lady with Roots (reverse)Employing painted underglazes and sgraffito on a shape that doesn't directly relate to the imagery, we see typical painterly elements of Lucero's work that he has become so well known for. One cannot but help getting a distinct feeling of surrealism here. The fantastic images Lucero paints on his forms seem to spring from the sub-conscious and speak to sub-conscious strands of the viewers mind. Lucero's interest in the Native American Pueblo dates back to his childhood travels from California to relatives in New Mexico. Here he would come into contact with American Natives and their culture. Native American rugs, jewelry, sculpture and ceramics would come to influence Lucero in his later life. The Californian and New Mexican environment also supplied the artist with a rich abundance of animal life, especially reptiles and amphibians that he loved as a child and employed in his imagery later in life. Anthropomorphic Urn with Dragonfly, 2002This is especially the case in his 'Earth Images' installation. Here we are presented with the Hercules Beetle of 1986 (pictured left). The fantastic, upright beetle is distorted and again surreal, painted with images of trees on the one hand and míro-like color fields on the other. Here, nature and culture collide. A closer inspection of the head reveals a pale, haunting ghost-like figure and scenery, perhaps suggesting stories of Native American medicine men or their people's beliefs. The overall effect is one of a bio-morphic enigma of disparate elements that nonetheless has a naturalness about it. Lucero pays homage to the pueblo in his 'Pre-Columbus' series, which consists of distorted seated figures, glazed in bright colors and painted with environmental scenes juxtaposed with screaming heads and pueblo pottery. Pre-columbian art contrasts with classical and modern painting traditions. The bar code and the tea-pot create a reference to the modern world and in a sense pre-empt Lucero's next series, the 'New World' series (e.g. Lady with Roots, pictured top left), which deals with the radical changes Columbus' discovery of the New World inflicted on the continent.
Lucero is as renowned for his painterly abstractions and surrealism as his ceramics, and ‘Elf With Puppy’s striking appearance finds itself in the shock of colour applied in underglaze and sgraffito as a skin. Lucero’s common interest in colliding elements of pop & surrealist art lends an air of plasticky unreality to the piece, the childish appeal of the elf and its kitschy, “yarn-covered” Lambie-esque finish looks as though popped fresh out of a cartoon — the rounded, bulbous ceramic form impressive for resting such a large squat head on a slight body. His practice with clay has been cited as fine art reflected at a larger and more fluid scale, incorporating and evoking archaeology, home crafts and overlooked portions of folk art or popular culture.
Among the many bodies of work created by Lucero in the 1980's, his most subtle were his "bug and fish" series from the mid 1980's. Taking the form of an actual creature and surfacing it with his amazing matte glazed imagery and then surrounding the edge of the creature with black, these works, mainly exhibited at the Everson Museum in Syracuse New York have a classicism that overwhelmed the viewer. This piece is a prime example of that body of work that would never be repeated as the years went on. Lucero’s “Bug & Fish” series of the 1980s takes the specific creature — formalised in clay — and projects subtle or detailed matte glaze miniatures along its surface in a lively combination of sculptural and figurative painting. The results of this process graduate to become more authoritatively lucid and surreal as multiple surfaces and increasingly alien forms are rendered, but “Flea” still holds a tactile and inquisitive delight in its relative simplicity and vestige of truth to nature in each separate element, the painting rather elegantly framed by the thorax of the insect.