Luke Allsbrook received a BFA in Painting from Indiana University (Bloomington) and an MFA (cum laude) from The New York Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the US and is included in the Forbes collection, Mercedes Benz, The US Department of State, The Morris Museum of Art, and in the collection of His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales. Mr. Allsbrook served as official tour artist for Prince Charles on his 2005 state tour of the United States. The recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundations Grant, he has taught drawing and painting at the New York Academy of Art, The Lyme Academy of Art, William Paterson University, UNC-Asheville, and in Italy with the University of Georgia Cortona Program. He resides with his wife and four children in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Go Painting with Luke
Luke Allsbrook travels to Harmon Den, North Carolina to create a painting of Cold Spring Creek. He talks about his creative process and shows the progress of the work on-site and in the studio.
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As a human it’s my sad tendency to think that the world is about “me.” But occasionally, I have had the experience which I’m sure you’ve had, when a special person or an extraordinary event breaks into the narrow enclosure of the self, and life flows in. I believe this is what happens when a beautiful picture is created. Somehow, the artist is given the gift of dis-interested love for something outside him or herself, and the necessary skill to capture and express that thing with paint. But every artist is tempted away from this self-forgetful enjoyment, motivated by a desire to cultivate a popular style, or flaunt a spectacular proficiency.
How do I get to that place of true inspiration? I can’t make it happen, any more than I can make a great friendship happen, and in both cases, my efforts to force the result may be counter-productive. Inspiration is a thing that happens to me—it’s a gift. But what is my part? A great painting certainly won’t materialize unless I stretch the canvas, mix the palette, and take a look around me. I must set the table for the angelic guest. There is nothing inspiring about this stage of the process. My latest exhibition has been taken down. My studio is empty. Perhaps there are bills to be paid. Ahead of me are uncertainty and discouragement, tedium and work.
The beginning of my creative process starts with looking. That means getting into the car and driving out into the countryside. I am looking for a place that does something inside me, something I know for sure when it happens. Finally, I pull onto a dirt road and dust kicks up behind the car. Everything feels old. There is a white clapboard farmhouse with a screened-in porch. The shade of the long porch, the shade of an elm tree, and the shade of a sheltering vine have all become one thing, part of the land. I round a turn and my heart starts to thump. It’s like reading the first few pages of a great book. I get out of the car and start to walk. The oak trees must be over a hundred and fifty years old. They line the side of the road like living columns. There is a breath of cool air, and through the flitting leaves, like a patchwork quilt, I see the crisp shapes of the mountains. Everywhere I look I see a painting. It’s like those paintings are already finished. I just have to do the work.
For the next year, I will come here and paint, hour after hour, sweating in the sun or chilled by biting wind. I will know this place so well that it will become a part of me. I will see a hawk kill a squirrel in one of the oak trees. I will stand ankle deep in the river, straining my eyes to see the patterns of color that let my brain know that I am looking at clear rippling water. There will be some dead ends. “That didn’t work. Okay, try this. That didn’t work. Okay, try this.”
I want the beauty of the things I see to drive the paintings forward. And that’s why I feel it’s a distraction from the real purpose of painting to be concerned about my own “style.” Flannery O’Conner said that great art should be based on observed facts “that make actual the mystery of our position on Earth.” The undulating lights on a sandy river bottom can move me so deeply that they speak to that mystery. They whisper to me that I don’t inhabit a meaningless universe, that there is a spiritual reality above and beyond the facts of the material world. Consider the endless variety of paintings in an art museum. An artist might paint an apple, a battle scene, or the graceful curve of a neck. The work might be loosely painted or rendered with endless detail. What is the common thread? Somehow the artist has made loving contact with the Truth out there, in reality. The artist has forgotten himself in the revelation of that thing.
C.S. Lewis said: “But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away "blindly" so to speak…Even in Literature and Art, no man who ever bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two-pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself and you will find your true self. Lose your life and you will save it.”
Luke Allsbrook is the kind of painter who makes you realize painting is not dead, that no amount of digitization or virtual reality can render obsolete the truly mysterious, poetic, personal image made out of that very primitive and immediate process of mark-making: pushing slippery, buttery, substances across canvas with intuitive eye and hand.
Like a young Lucien Freud, Allsbrook is a painter’s painter. His images are strong and tender at the same time, the light and air swirling around the trees and structures with a quiet hum yet stilled with a solid fix on a world keenly witnessed by him alone, a personal, masterful voyage into a realm of his own making, the marks loose and free, but forever.
His paintings transcend the pictorial because they suggest not only an exterior vision, a heightened reality, but an interior soul-catching, a spiritual journey. They are simultaneously landscape and inscape, pervasive with the warm atmosphere of devout feeling as well as radiant phenomena, the light behind the eye as well as in front of it.
-James A. Herbert, Research Professor of Art, UGA
Tour Artist with HRH the Prince of Wales
In November of 2005, Luke Allsbrook served as tour artist for HRH the Prince of Wales on his visit to the US. Prince Charles has traditionally taken an artist along on state tours as a way to support the arts and to document his trips. Mr. Allsbrook was recommended for the position by a British Artist he met on a painting trip in Normandy, France. As tour artist, Allsbrook traveled with the Prince's staff, executing painting and drawing sketches over a five day period in the San Francisco area. Most of the paintings produced on the trip capture the landscape of the organic farms of Marin County. These farms were the focus of the West Coast stage of the Prince's tour. The images below are some of the works painted for this trip. (All collection of HRH The Prince of Wales)