Rhody Maker: Painter Soraya Ghazi Lutes

The textile artist-turned-painter treats fruits and vegetables as holy objects, depicting them in an opulent, sanctified glow.

Sgl ImageRhode Island Monthly: How did you get your start in art? Were you interested in painting at a young age?

Soraya Ghazi Lutes: According to my mother, the very first time I was given crayons to draw with, I picked them up like a grown up. Whether or not that is technically true — maybe that wasn’t really my first time — I can’t remember a time when painting or drawing was not part of my life. In my childhood I had two major uprootings [Soraya was born in the U.S., moved to Finland with her mother and sibling at age three, then returned to the U.S. at age fourteen] and at both times I leaned into artistic expression to steady myself and eventually, as a young adult, chose it as a career path.

Papaya 2018RIM: You began your career in textile art. What type of work did you do?

SGL: During freshman foundation at RISD, I briefly considered painting as a major, mainly because one of my favorite foundation teachers recommended I do so, but I wanted to be practical — learn a trade — and I eventually landed in the textile department. I loved it, particularly silk screening and surface design. Drawing and painting repeating patterns was like a puzzle and a magic trick all in one. To me there is something mesmerizing about a pattern being able to be repeated, infinitely. It is why I like to use geometric patterns in the background of my paintings now. They help to evoke the religious connotations I want to create.

Radishes 600RIM: What motivated you to pivot to painting?

SGL: An amazing job opportunity for my husband, in Normandy, France, in 2014 gave me the occasion to leave a career in the textile industry, take a creative breath and seriously pursue the idea of painting, something I always toyed with on the side.

RIM: Your work has this opulent, sanctified glow. Why did you decide to depict produce in this way?

SGL: It really started from a long time fascination with Byzantine-style Icons. I loved how they made everything depicted precious. Icons are designed to give devotees, through contemplation and prayer, a direct link to divine communication with the depicted saint. I wanted to create that sense of contemplation and reverence on more ordinary, earthly items. The world is full of humble but exquisite things, like simple fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s a little bit like animism meets a gilded icon.

Pomegranate FinRIM: Where can readers find your work next?

SGL: At the moment, I have no new work. Right before COVID hit, I had planned to study icon gilding from Russian master gilders in Poland. I have taught myself to gild and paint with egg tempera but really want to perfect my use of gold leaf. I feel like I am in the middle, not wanting to start new paintings without learning new gilding techniques, but I need the world to open again! Don’t we all!

For more information on Soraya Ghazi Lutes’s work, visit her website at sorayaghazilutes.com.