Luke Allsbrook was born in Chapel
Hill, North Carolina and grew up in
Augusta, Georgia. He 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, and
in the collection of His Royal
Highness, The Prince of Wales.
Mr. Allsbrook served as official tour
artist for The Prince on his 2005
state tour of the United States.
The recipient of the Elizabeth
Greenshields Foundations Grant
and two–time Posey Scholar, 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 now resides in the
mountains of Western North
Carolina with his wife, Renee, and
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
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
University of Georgia
An interview by Jarrod Mayes,
art student, October 2011
What is "art" to you?
That's a big question. It is, to begin with, my livelihood. I am married with four children and I support my family with painting sales. Then, It's a calling. Painting
is something I'm good at, something I'm drawn to, and something that I have felt led to do. A teacher once told me that art is about love and servant-hood. I like
that definition. Just like the rest of life, art is not about yourself, rather, glorifying something outside yourself. That's easy to say but completely against our
human nature. I think that good art imparts life in some way. Some contemporary art makes you feel like you're having mud thrown at you. I don't like that.
Good art should be deep and complex but not ambiguous. The artist's job is to convey something with the medium that perhaps other people can't do. I once
read an art review that found the artist's incomprehensibility a sign of greatness. In my opinion that kind of thinking is nonsense.
How long have you created art? Has it been something you have been passionate about your entire life?
Although I have always been good at drawing and painting, my passion for it has gone through phases. When I was young, I painted because it was fun and
got me a lot of praise- just like a kid who's good at football. In school, I painted because I wanted to achieve excellence. After getting married, I felt that art was
what I was meant to do with my life, so I exerted myself to make a living at it. Initially I planned to be a college professor, but over the years, as my paintings
continued to sell, I made my living as a professional artist. Love for the act of painting itself has come as a gift only in the last few years. I always loved to finish
a picture. More and more I look forward to starting a picture.
Did you receive any instruction in art or are you self-taught? If you received instruction, what schools did you attend?
I took painting lessons throughout childhood. My first lessons were with a woman named Gloria Jennings. She had a file cabinet full of magazine clippings.
Each student would sift through these and pick out something to copy. That was a great way to begin learning about painting because it immediately trained
me to use my eyes. Starting in middle school, I began to learn oil painting under an artist who became my mentor, Edward Rice. I still use the same palette that
he taught me, the one he learned from his mentor, Freedman Schoolcraft. I attended Indiana University for my undergraduate degree because it was relatively
traditional. A professor there, Bonnie Sklarski, had a major impact on my decision to pursue a career in fine art. She encouraged me to study in New York at
the New York Academy. I married, moved to NYC, and lived there for nine years pursuing first my masters, then my career as an artist.
How difficult was it to ‘break into’ the art industry? What steps/actions did you have to take to make art a career?
It was very difficult and still is, but I suppose that's true for anything worthwhile in life. After I completed my Masters, I didn't know where to begin. My thesis
exhibition came and went. Nothing happened. During that time, I could not have made it without the support of my wife, who worked to pay the bills while I got
on my feet. After a few months, I rented a studio in a warehouse in Brooklyn. As I walked around museums looking at paintings done throughout history, I was
struck by all the different things that painting could be about. So I started with a simple question: If I could paint anything in the world, what would it be?
It's important when starting out as an artist to focus on making great paintings. You must have good work. Galleries and buyers will follow great paintings. As
far as marketing one's work, my advice is to try anything you can think of. There are no real rules on becoming a successful artist. For many years these
words, "He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him" were very important to me. I focused every
day on casting out seed, not on the success or failure of the planting. Whether it was sending out letters to galleries, starting a new painting, or applying for a
grant, I just kept casting out seed. Most of it never sprouted, but some always did and sometimes years later. I kept a folder of all my rejection letters from
galleries, schools, and grants to show my kids. Apparently Babe Ruth at one time had the most home runs and also the most strike-outs. It may or may not be
true, but I identify with that. I felt painting was what I was supposed to do with my life, so I never gave up. Lastly, this has also helped me to become a
successful artist: being a successful artist is not the most important thing to me. My faith and family are more important. That seems like a paradox, but to the
extent that it's true, it alleviates pressure. If painting is the most important thing in life, every time you touch the canvas there is pressure to justify your
What artists inspire you/What is your favorite artist from history?
Caspar David Friedrich, Andrew Wyeth, Vuilliard, Breughel, Botticelli, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper. Degas, Van Gogh, Da vinci, painters of the Hudson
River School, and Whistler.
How frequently do you work on your art?
I try to paint every day. It took a long time for me to discipline myself to do that. Making a schedule helped. Typically I spend half the day on painting and half
the day on business/ frame making, etc.
Do you have a space/studio in which you primarily produce? If so, how does this space encourage you to create?
My studio is in my home. Being an artist can be very lonely. I like having my wife and kids around. About half the time I am in my studio painting and half the
time I'm out in nature painting. I love that. There is nothing like standing in the middle of a river painting all morning. In my studio, I enjoy listening to movies or
books on tape. As long as it's something I'm familiar with, I can follow the story and it keeps the painting from getting too intense. Lately, one of my favorite
things to listen to while I paint has been David Copperfield.
What is the usual process you go through when creating art (planning, sketches, etc.)?
I like doing all kinds of painting, including portraiture and still-life, but in general I do two kinds of painting:
1. painting landscape from life out in the field
2. painting larger studio paintings of figures in landscape using my landscape paintings as studies.
For the landscape paintings, the process is simply walking and looking. This is more important than it sounds. You have to have some insight or inspiration
before you start painting. I walk until I see something that really excites me.
For the larger studio paintings with figures, as I said before, sometimes I start by asking myself a simple question- "If I could paint anything in the world, what
would it be?" Sometimes an idea will come by asking that question. At other times I will be inspired with an idea by a book, a poem, or a personal experience of
How important is self-reflection in your growth as an artist?
That depends on what you mean. Introspection is inherently unreliable in my experience. However, being able to be quiet, and not allowing yourself to be
distracted by the crazy internet/tv/media world we live in is very important. I used to take long slow walks in NYC on the street or in Central Park to slow down
and clear my mind. Finding things you love to read is important. The author, C.S. Lewis, has had a major impact on my thinking about art and life. I believe that
prayer is important. Being involved in other people's lives is important. Time spent with a good friend is important. In my view, all these are good ways to have
How has your style evolved over time?
I try not to think about my style. I focus on painting what I see and humbling myself to nature. That's one thing that I learned from Lewis. He said, "Even in
literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has
been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."
It says on your website that you were the tour artist for the Prince of Wales during his visit to the U.S., what was the experience like?
That was incredible. It was a bit like being a celebrity for a week. When I was hurrying behind the Prince with his staff and all the cameras were flashing and
the journalists yelling, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing, "Why am I here?". Prince Charles has traditionally chosen an artist to accompany him on his
state tours as a way to document his trips and as a way to support artists. I was lucky enough to be chosen for the west coast stage of his state tour to the
United States in 2005. The "tour artist" follows the Prince and makes sketches or paintings of the places or people he visits. For me, that involved painting
quick oil sketches of the organic farms that the Prince visited in California. Both Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were wonderful, and genuinely
interested in my work and career.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to be an artist?
Personally, my faith, and the security it gave me have been indispensable, but of course people differ on this.
When looking for a teacher, trust your own instincts when evaluating their work. If it's incredible, you'll know it.
Paint from life. Durer said: "Art is embedded in nature, he who can extract it has it." Van Gogh said: "Bow to nature and she will bow to you".
Don't worry about your style- find something to paint and delight in that thing, whatever it is.