Luke Waller has been on my radar for a few years now. After seeing his work as a painter on the BBC, I became intrigued with his realism and meticulous eye for detail so he landed a place on my mental list of subjects to photograph. In the time that's passed his career as an artist has been on the up and up and he's even turned his hand to modelling, being listed as "One to Watch" by Mr Porter.
With that it mind it seemed perfect to drive the new BMW i3 designed by Mr Porter for our shoot around East London. I drove through the city to Hackney Wick to pick Luke up at his studio and we nipped between his favourite spots in the neighbourhood to shoot him on his daily jaunt. On the shoot we discussed his inspiration, how he got to where he is today and the gentrification of London. See the full story below and to see more of Luke's work at Luke-Waller.com or follow him on Instagram at @1uke_wa11er.
Special thanks to Stour Space & Morty and Bobs for the incredible locations and also to Mr Porter for the new BMW i3. The car was incredible as it's small enough for London's busy streets but large enough to carry our crew of five comfortably. We'd never driven in a fully battery powered car so the stealth and ability to reach speed was mighty impressive. All this wrapped in a perfectly considered body designed by a team who truly know style. See more about the car we drove MrPorter.com.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I was born in Ladbroke Grove then moved to Shepherds Bush, West London, and onto The New Forest on the South Coast when I was 10. I’m in Hackney Wick now having moved to East London 11 years ago and very happy here. The move from London to The New Forest was a culture shock but at that age all I wanted to do was play football and climb trees and there’s a fair amount of open space and trees to do just that. It’s close to the coast too so my dad and I would surf a lot, I remember some cold outings in January but loved it. At the same time we'd visit family in London most school holidays and that meant by the age of 19 I was itching to venture back to the bright lights after my art foundation course in Bournemouth.
Were you artistic as a child? What kind of things did you used to create? I’ve always been artistic, I remember copying characters from cartoons and at school I painted murals to decorate the art block. In class I’d use each project to experiment in medium and style. I did this until my final year of the illustration degree when I produced a series of paintings called ‘Frank’s Wild Years’. I’ve continued these ever since.
Luke wears Margaret Howell jacket, wool polo shirt, Incotex navy chinos, Doc Martens boots, Trakke waxed cotton bag.
What point did you realise art could be your job? I’ve always known the difficulties in choosing this profession. I still do, which is why I studied illustration rather than art at university and interned in fashion at i-D Magazine and SHOWstudio once I’d finished. The BBC 'Culture Show’ did a profile piece on my ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ series around this time, talking about it in reference to Edward Hopper, and I’d received a good number of price requests from that. I realised art could actually
be my job rather than a dream.
How has your craft developed over the years? At school I’d say my painting was ambitious in scale and playful in combining mediums, at college it was experimental in technique if not a little too graphic at times, at foundation it was very graphic and pretty flat having taking
influence by the likes of Julian Opie and Gary Hume. The illustration course is where my projects became more concept based and I didn’t do much painting until the ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ series in the final of my four years.
That project developed the technique of composing paintings through collaging found fragments of photography, TV and film imagery, which has since developed through confidence with techniques in which to paint.
Your aesthetic is very particular and precise. Do you think this meticulous method reflects who you are as a person? I wouldn’t like too think that but yes. I often wish my artwork were a little more fluid, more spontaneous. I’ve considered whether there’s a door of creativity I’m missing out on by producing art so methodically. I’m deliberate as a person and a stickler for perfection, which translates in the way I paint I suppose.
How would you describe your painting style to someone who couldn't see? Blimey! I paint people in places in such a way that is visually accurate. However, because I have placed them there for the purpose of the painting, there is a slight air of off balance to the outcome that might make anyone refocus, 20-20 vision or not.
Luke wears Prada overcoat, Theory cashmere sweater, Percival skinny chinos, Doc Martens boots, Laird London hat.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up where people could see your work? I’m currently painting towards the next show. Although the dates and location haven’t been confirmed, it should be a good one in a space that is not your average gallery.
What else is on the horizon for you? Having recently been invited to sign to Models 1, I’ve a couple of modelling jobs coming up so a bit of pouting and posing, which I enjoy, otherwise its paint, paint, paint.
Are you working on anything interesting at the moment? There’s a commission to finish, then I’ve another large piece planned out. Almost all of my paintings of the past 6 years have been on a small scale. I think it’s time to get another big piece under my belt.
London's changing so rapidly but the East has probably seen the biggest change fastest. Do you see yourself there in 10 years? Let’s see how this goes. I’d love to move abroad at some point but would like to do so with more of name for myself first. If that happens I’m sure I’ll be back in London at some point, east or otherwise.
What do you think of the changes? It pushes prices up quicker than wages which is bollocks, but the restaurants and bars popping up in Hackney Wick over the past few have kept it’s charm against all odds.
How do you reconcile high rents and gentrification with living an artist’s life? Well I don’t unfortunately; I’m not there yet. My rent is reasonable but I’m not in a position to rely on my art to pay for it. So I manage a restaurant in Soho called Pix, five shifts a week and the odd modelling job helps out too.
How would you describe your style? At the restaurant it’s sleeves rolled, top button done and DM’s so I’d say a Skinhead you’d invite for tea, and otherwise it’s often a polo-neck jumper and leather jacket, so then a throwback from the Paris Riots of ’68.
Do you have any favourite brands? Many that vary but having spent a number of years working without a model agency I’ve been looked after well by Percival, Emmett London, Pelechecoco and Joseph, so they occupy my wardrobe.
Are there any men who you take inspiration from in your life? My dad a great deal. If I have half the temperament he does I’d have reason to be proud.
What advice would you give your 18 year old self? ‘Snap out of it’, I got myself into a few scrapes around that age.
Leave us with some words of wisdom. Keep at it and be nice, a bit of courtesy doesn’t hurt anyone.
Luke wears ACNE leather jacket, Benetton polo neck, Percival trousers, Converse trainers.