Artist Q&A: Luke Barker
by Lee Steer, May 09, 2019
Get to know the people behind the art.
In our new series of Q&As here on Artmarketspace, we will be speaking with some of the artists whose work appears on our platform as well as the passionate buyers adding these pieces to their collection.
In our first Q&A, we spoke to Brisbane-based artist Luke Barker about his style, finding inspiration in his city surroundings, and portraying street art in his work.
When did you feel the first urge to create art? How did that make you feel?
I’ve drawn and painted as long as I can remember, though obviously not at the level I do now. My grandma was an artist in Sydney and much of my childhood with her was little games and exercises that challenged my hand and eye with pencils, pens and brushes.
What medium and materials do you work with? How did you decide on this medium?
I mostly work in oil on timber board or linen nowadays but I learned and regularly practice techniques in many media and surfaces. I feel experimenting with different art forms I see is a great way to develop tricks and skills to apply in my work for unique effects.
How would you describe your style? How has your style evolved over time, and what has influenced its development?
I would describe my style as bouncing between photo-realism and accurate impressionism. I find techniques I can use to get the paint to appear the way I want and apply them in a collective manner to each create an area of the painting as it develops in front of me.
I don’t feel a distinct singular technique applies to my work, more a range of skills to choose from at any given time. Making them work and stitch together is the juggle. It’s always been a style area my work leaned toward and where I most find satisfaction in my completed pieces.
What themes do you explore in your work?
My work is multifaceted and revolves around people, our living environments and our numerous effects on the natural environment of the planet. I studied many subject areas over the years and have reached a place where I’m able to draw many of those subjects together randomly, to convey messages and ideas in my work.
Where does your desire to work with those themes come from?
I think being surrounded by everyday scenarios which I include in my work keeps them forefront in my artwork (you never know when you will walk around a corner and have your attention caught by something worth painting). The inspiration to paint them is almost an obvious choice since they appear constantly right in front of me. I also find, since I started painting in that way, I’ve never sat in front of a canvas and wondered what I should do on it, ideas are backed up for a long way.
Street scenes are very common in your work – What is the inspiration/motivation behind that?
I’m living surrounded by a city that, when you watch the details, never stops changing and evolving. I think that just caught on in my work.
How do you choose what to portray?
I have ideas of paintings building in my head over time. All the time and I try to be mindful of my surroundings, regularly spotting scenery, objects, lighting and individuals that catch my eye and would work in what I’m mentally constructing for future works. Then when I feel ready to paint, they, assisted by many photos, sketches, written ideas and lists of details, are technically already there.
Luke Barker's studio
You also include a lot of street art in your paintings – Why did you start including this in your works?
I painted a street scene about 10 or 11 years ago which had tagging on a section of brick wall and no galleries wanted it. Literally 8 galleries told me not to include graffiti in paintings because it was “glorifying crime”, was unsellable, unpopular, etc etc (basically the old vandal mindset and labelling associated with spraypaint and paintpens). After, and in answer to, that outcome, I painted a Melbourne alley specifically swamped with ‘graffiti’ in a painting called Techno-colour and entered it as an urban landscape in the 2011 Wynne Prize.
The outcome of that painting was I got to be a finalist as one of twenty-something, picked from 810 entries that year; I found new gallery representation that went on to be the start of a successful series of 38 finished paintings and numerous studies, included in a number of unique private collections and some public arenas as well.
What does inspiration mean to you and how much do you rely on it in your work?
Painting realism, I find inspiration is paramount in my work. It is the axis of where my subject matter comes from and I kind of allow it in that way to govern the general direction of my work in a steady path towards the future of my painting.
What does your creative process look like? How does inspiration come for a piece, and how do you then make a start creating it?
On a wall, my creative process looks like a messy collection of quick sketches, detailed drawings, small painted studies, many photos, custom handmade objects, scribbled lists, pages of written notes, poetry, recipes of colour combinations, jotted ideas of useful objects and locations with time periods referencing good lighting. Occasionally though, it all culminates into a finished painting or small group of pieces pertaining to the painting idea that ends up being quite popular with the part of society who get to see it. “Popular” being it stops them in their tracks and evokes ‘any’ emotion or thought about what it is about, they like it, it gets them talking about it elsewhere, the word of it spreads, sometimes it sells, and sometimes I even get commissioned to do more from its popularity.
Does living in Brisbane influence your creative process or provide inspiration in another way? Are there any other places that inspire you?
I find living in Brisbane, it is a pretty city that is easy to get around and it is kind of the birthplace of many of my ideas for my work, although when I can, I visit many other cities and even other countries, gaining inspiration and imagery for my artwork. You never know what you will find or how you can make it connect with the work till it grabs you in a lightning idea moment.
Are there fellow artists who inspire you, who either work with the same media as you, or in other fields?
I am inspired by many artists both in Australia and overseas via social media and see a lot of amazing and innovative work, ideas, techniques and skill sets in both production, marketing, and career evolution. Many moments are spent in my studio thinking “wish I thought of that” or “if only I painted those ideas”. I try to keep my work unique and original, though others are definitely inspiring to watch, and I have even seen a fair bit of my ideas copied by others both here and overseas. I find that interesting and kind of a privilege considering some of them and what they do.
What have you been working on recently?
I’m working on a few projects at the moment, though with my painting, I’m developing a new series that bends reality a bit and looks at man’s influence and effect on the rest of the world and its inhabitants and their potential for adaption to our presence... and yes there are already others sniffing around the edges of my ideas, you can’t help that happening, trick is to paint fast and attentively enough to own it first.