For over fifty years, artist and jewelry designer Steven Lavaggi has pondered these questions. What is hope? What is eternity? Do angels answer prayers? His moniker is the ‘Artist of Hope’.
There are two tracks to Lavaggi’s work, both musical: lyrical and instrumental. The acrylics he uses to create 3D-like cloud paintings provide a glimpse of glory, of the divine at the end of one’s mortal life. You feel like hopping right into the vortex of the light emanating from these paintings’ center. The further you get from the center they beckon you, the stronger the pull, like when you stand at the ocean’s edge and a gusty wind tugs you into the waves.
Instrumental paintings have a contextual melody yet no definitive motif, while lyrical images are defined as ‘telling a story.’ “Most of my work, perhaps all, is about hope and reassurance, a divine inspiration or unconditional love of and from God,” he explains. Angels adorn many paintings as gentle reminders that they are global guardians watching over us humans. He also produces angels as bronze sculptures and in silver and gold jewelry, rings, and necklaces.
But is this religious art? I ask. Steven muses, “not in the way of organized religion if that’s what you meant.” That’s what I meant. What if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus? Does it mean they won’t appreciate your art? Used to such naysayers, he is not in the least ruffled, “I am a prayer to deposit something that will benefit others in their lives. Since years, when my claim to fame began with selling these angels on QVC, I realized the symbolic meaning of angels transformed people’s lives. The grander scheme of creation deeply inspires me.”
He played me a recording of a phone call made by a buyer of one of his angel necklaces who personally shared her traumatic story with Steve, an unknown merchant, and how his angel necklace gave her hope to ditch the idea of self-harm. As we tour his home and studio, he recalls a story about his father who, like many parents of the pre-Boomer generation, wanted their sons to become doctors, lawyers, or businessmen like Lavaggi’s dad. “He told me art won’t pay the bills and discouraged me from attending art school.”
“And what happened later on?” I’m curious to know.
“After selling hundreds of thousands of pieces of jewelry on QVC, I asked him rhetorically if art can put food on the table,” My dad never repeated the statement about art putting food on the table.
Lavaggi was born in Lodi, New Jersey, and grew up in Tennessee. He has a BFA (Painting Major) from the University of Tennessee and spent many years in L.A. hobnobbing with musicians like Booker T and the MG’s. He met Nelson Mandela and Salvador Dali. He moved to Austin over fifteen years ago and made it his home.
His jewelry is sold at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL, and at https://shop.lavaggiart.com/about-the-artist.
Visit his upcoming show on April 22, 2023, from 11:00 – 4:00 pm; Steven will be live painting in the A05 Gallery in the Arboretum. Get your tickets to the show here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/arboretum-arts-fest-live-at-ao5-with-steven-lavaggi-and-cortney-hesse-tickets-565455090397