Artist Interview: Oil Studies with Luke Martineau
Luke Martineau is a versatile London-based artist whose output encompasses portraiture, landscape, still life and illustration. Having studied English and Modern Languages at Oxford, he studied briefly at The Heatherley School of Fine Art in London before beginning to paint professionally in the 1990s, and becoming a member, then President of, the Chelsea Art Society.
Luke’s studio is nestled in the heart of his family home in Shepherd’s Bush, London. A beautiful, bright and airy space, the halls are filled with Luke’s illustrative works, homages to lithographs and woodcuts of old children’s books. The studio itself is covered in oil studies; vibrant, impressionistic visions of sunlit green fields and bustling street scenes mingle with portrait commissions and works in progress.
Your forthcoming show includes 80 oils of London, Paris, Venice, Rome and various other destinations, tell us about your travels.
I do travel quite a bit, and there is usually some element of travel in my work and exhibitions. The two main trips for this show were with the Chelsea Art Society to Venice, and Paris more recently. There are also a few paintings of the West Country and North Wales too. I go on painting trips with other artists for about a week. We’ll go to Paris for example and meet in the morning for breakfast, then go our separate ways to make work, then meet again for dinner, and we pass like ships in the day carrying our easels about.
What period of time does this show cover?
It’s about a year and a half but I’m quite prolific. 80 pictures have gone to the gallery but there are a few pictures left back here in the studio. Some paintings can take just an hour, I can stand on a bridge in Paris in the cold in early March for an hour just to capture that moment and that light. The result is of course that you end up with quite a lot of works and you have to make choices about what to show, you can’t show everything.
Do you always paint en plein air?
I paint on the spot and from photographs, but I have been painting en plain air since I was 16. That’s when I got the taste for it. The language of the paint is so tied up in it, making marks, responding to changes of light and working quickly, these are things I started taking on board very young.
A lot of your landscapes are animated with figures, could you talk a bit about that?
I do that deliberately, it gives a human context and dimension, and a figure can draw the eye through the space and give scale. The human figure receding is a tried and tested way of creating space. Although I’m not really interested in being a topographical painter, I’d much rather my paintings went towards a more musical expression, that’s what I think painting is all about, it’s an abstract process and even though my work is quite detailed it’s really about trying to make those abstract marks hang together.
There is a real subtlety in the tones in your work and a beautiful sense of light, whether it’s reflections in water or light bouncing off a snow capped peak, how do you achieve this?
Quite a lot of my works are painted on an acrylic coloured ground. I like to paint on a warm base, the warmth permeates through if you paint thinly on top. I’m used to paining very subtle tones, partly that comes from being an English plein air painter, for example this painting of Exmoor, it’s a quintessentially English colour palette, all greys and greens and softness. You need to be subtle and consider how one green may differ from another green, and the answer will be it’s just a little bit redder or browner or a touch more acid. You really can find a multitude of subtleties, I try to reach a point where I feel there is a satisfying and harmonious whole.
Can you tell me about your kit? What are your favourite materials?
I use quite a limited palette of a couple of blues, reds and yellows. Although I couldn’t really do without Cadmium Red or Yellow. I also use a bit of Burnt or Raw Umber, and some Yellow Ochre or Indian Yellow which I’m enjoying at the moment because it’s transparent but powerful. When you’re painting en plein air you want to keep things as simple as possible, so when the palette has been blown over into your face on Battersea Bridge you know how to set it out again!
Which artists do you admire?
Going right back to the beginning it was Monet and the French Impressionists like Sisley and Pissarro and now I’m more interested in Manet and Degas because they painted from the figure much more. But I still love Monet, when I was in Paris recently I went back to the Musée d'Orsay and I hadn’t been for many years and it was it was like seeing old friends, it’s an amazing feeling to see the paintings that made you want to become a painter. I also admire William Nicholson because of his versatility and still life painting.
There are some still life pieces in the show, what do you enjoy about this genre?
It’s part of something I’ve done since I learnt to draw. The thing I find hardest about still life is placing the items. I much prefer to find it as it is, it’s always better and more natural. They’re not just a great thing to do on a rainy day, there is something magical about the play of light, and how paint can evoke that sense of depth and space and the joy of surfaces, and all those things that I love to paint as an artist.
Luke will also be giving a short talk entitled ‘Painting on the spot’ in the gallery on the subject of his various recent trips on Wednesday 25 May at 12.30pm.
Why not take part in the Chelsea Art Society
open submission exhibition for a chance to show alongside Luke and the Society’s 100+ members. Simply visit the website to download a form
to apply, then take your work to the Chelsea Town Hall for selection on Monday 13 June 2016. The exhibition runs at Chelsea Town Hall from Thursday 16 – Monday 20 June 2016. There are a number of prizes available including the Wedlake Bell Prize for a Young Artist worth £1000, and the Julian Barrow Prize for a painting worth £500 and more. Good luck!
Image Credits: All images © Luke Martineau