Brooklyn-based artist Luke Alexander Atkinson uses painting to capture what he finds beautiful and interesting in the world. Through his travels and studies in places as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia, and as close by as Long Island City, Atkinson has been able to explore his technique, create paintings on a large and small-scale that capture the scenes and the people around him. We sat down with Atkinson to talk about his practice and life in Brooklyn.
What made you want to fulfill an artistic career and how did you get your start?
I have spent a large amount of time working more sensible jobs and exploring more practical careers. Throughout that time, I've discovered that I either have no capacity for the jobs or that, when I'm not developing my creative work, I'm thinking about doing so. To be engaged and fulfilled, I need to pursue my creative work. In a way, it's not really a choice – it's more a facing of reality and going from there.
When I was little, I drew until there was no more blank paper in the house. Eventually, my parents brought home boxes of perforated computer paper for me to draw on. When I think back, that's the start – it's the first encouragement and "investment" in my creative abilities. I haven't stopped drawing since then and have been blessed to cross paths with many wonderful people who helped and supported me along the way.
For a long time, I worked to master the materials – to paint a realistic illusion of the person, object, or whatever the subject was. I had this idea that good painting was realistic painting – a demonstration of skill. The more I've worked, opened my eyes, and studied the artwork that I resonates with me, the more I've grown and relaxed on this idea. That said, it's important to master whatever medium one is working with, otherwise the medium will control you. I'm not saying that I've mastered the medium – far from it. I will always have a lot to learn. The growth is that I accept this and just aim to get as close to what I want to say or share as my abilities at this moment allow me.
Are there any specific themes you enjoy tying into your work?
I work to approach every piece with as few preconceptions as possible. I can say that I work to face reality with fresh, unbiased eyes. I hesitate to carry along a formula, method, or pattern to filter reality through. It's the idea that, if I am awake to reality and put whatever talent I have to use, then the work will be successful. Another theme is an interest in people – I am fascinated by Montaigne's idea that every person contains a kingdom, world, or universe within themselves. This is why I am always interested in painting people.
I hesitate to intellectualize it, but I reach for certain colors and mix color a certain way depending on what I'm looking at, thinking about, or trying to say. At this point, a lot of it is instinct. But, that instinct comes from spending an unreasonable amount of time pouring over books, making unsuccessful paintings, and going to museums when it's nice outside. A simplified example might help – an elbow might not be red, but if you feel the stress or pressure on it, that elbow can feel red to you.
There are so many. Here are a few: I used to share a studio with the illustrator Elizabeth Graeber. She has the most amazing, dedicated work ethic, but still manages to produce these beautiful, light drawings and paintings. Zoe Dufour is a sculptor and one of the most curious, talented, driven, and helpful people I know. I had the opportunity to study with the painter Vincent Desiderio. Besides being a great painter, he is a painterly drill sergeant in my mind. Working with him was an inspirational, motivating kick in the pants. Here are three more on my mind: Euan Uglow for perspicacity; Marcel Duchamp for humor and intellect; and Yasujirō Ozu for poise.
Have you taken part or visited in any past exhibitions or activities at BRIC in the past?
I haven't had a chance to participate in a show at BRIC yet, but I have enjoyed the Public Access/Open Networks, BRIC Biennial, and Ride or Die exhibitions. I also just saw Vieux Farka Touré play the other week (as part of BRIC House Sessions) – I hope he and his band come back soon. I've attended Ronald K. Brown's dance class too – the nicest guy and such a joyful time.
I spent some time travelling last Fall. On my first day back in Brooklyn, my street was closed for Mexican Independence Day. There was a big crowd, colorful dancers, a giant moon bounce, and constant music. Rich, unexpected events like this are valuable – they enrich my life and expand my experience. They are beyond anything I could imagine and they happen all over Brooklyn. This kind of living keeps me present and on my toes. It has enabled me to reorient my work to focus on the present and the life that is before me – that's the effect Brooklyn has had on me and my art. It's a gift living here.
View Atkinson's BRIC Artist Registry profile HERE >>
Visit his website HERE >>
View his Instagram page HERE >>
Compiled by Chloe Bashy