In our latest in the series of gallerist’s discussions, Gary Pressman, Director of Copro Gallery, interviews classical painter Luke Hillestad in the wake of his solo show LORE.
Through Luke’s interpretations of ancient characters pulled deep from folklore and legends, he reinvents our ancestor’s knowledge to produce narratives with relevance within modern times – all while keeping the classical beauty and techniques honed through generations of master painters. In their interview, Luke delves into the design behind his solo show LORE and his techniques as a painter, as well as the profound effect becoming a father has had on his inspiration and works. So get yourself settled, and enjoy the preview to whet your appetite for his exhibition at Copro Gallery, opening this Saturday.
November 10 – December 1, 2018
Saturday, November 10 , 2018 – 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. Luke will be in attendance.
Bergamot Arts Complex, 2525 Michigan Ave T5, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tell us about the inspiration and concept for LORE.
We had our first child a year ago and now bedtime is full of stories. This summer, we finished J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and recently our son favors an illustrated poem about Hiawatha. The lore in these books is what precedes their authors. It has no definite origins. Like echoes from the underworld; lore is the evolved and sifted ethos of our ancestors. Lore gives shape and color to the world of emotional energy.
Lore is about characters who draw you in and form the character you will build for yourself. The personalities in lore may be gods, but they have vulnerabilities innate to their archetype. Get to know these beings and a parallel world opens up. Friends, foes, and loved ones all embody them; these human traits, these old spirits. A strong character extends your life, even past itself. What is left after you are gone is your contribution to Lore.
Danu (oil on linen, 30″ x 40″)
My wife’s courage in carrying and birthing our child was the picture of Danu, an earth mother and a brave life-giver. She is the solid ground, which stabilizes and transforms the surrounding chaos. Danu offers a serene mental landscape.
Salacia (oil on linen, 35″ x 35″)
After our baby was born, we spent three months in the hospital. Confronting mortality is like a trip to the depths of the ocean. You are likely to come up from those pressure levels with a mentality that is alien to surface life. But like the ocean, it connects every shore dweller. It is the domain of Salacia, goddess of the salty sea.
Selkies (oil on linen, 26″ x 34″)
Our son came out of the hospital with tremendous energy. The way he wildly flip-kicked his legs while laying on his belly had me thinking he must be part selkie. The selkie is half seal. They are creatures caught between land and ocean.
White Stag (oil on linen, 24″ x 26″)
The lore of a culture encodes the tools humans have used to overcome their worst fears. For instance, picture this creature at the edge of the forest. The clearing is a portal to the darkest depths of your dread. Before you feel ready to meet your fear, the stag will turn and run ahead of you. Stay where you are, if you will, or chase it through the unknown into your greater potential. Follow the stag and life is always an epic.
Are your oil painting methods unique?
Any unique technique I have is probably an unintentional quirk. Oil is extraordinarily temperamental. Also every picture has its individual needs. So methodizing painting often feels like a futile challenge. Still, I’ve gathered some routines and tricks that keep me from complete chaos.
For me the picture typically comes first. My brain is wired that way. Then the story follows. However, with this Guinevere picture I was gifted a bright idea from my friend Kat, who remembered a childhood fairy tale. It’s about young Guinevere shooting a wolf unaware that it is a werewolf child. This is essential lore. It represents feelings of panic, aggression, pride, surprise, shame, and innocence.
The nervous wolf boy has backed up against a red birch; anthropomorphic veins for his pulsing blood. They are set against a near-ice-grey pond caught in the moment of realization and before reaction. Early on, I blocked in large shapes, with as much motion as I could manage, and a sense of temperature and value. After that, I spent months reshaping and honing the color, to give life and cohesion.
Guinevere and the Wolf Boy (oil on linen, 38″ x 40″)
Do you sketch all the paintings in a series like Lore first and have all the ideas before starting, or do you paint them one at a time and develop ideas as you go?
I am far too eager a painter to have a pristine set of sketches ready before I begin a series. Most of my sketching is done in paint, under the final surface. Fortunately, I like the rough exterior that results from a history of changes. A strange thing happens with oil over time. It slowly becomes more transparent. So, inevitably, covered elements will peak through.
Somewhere in the middle of a piece my progress will hit a plateau. It is nearly unavoidable; like a midlife crisis for the piece. At this time, I’ll put it away, move on to some other painting, and then look at it with fresh eyes weeks later. New challenges and inspirations emerge every time.
Cernunnos (oil on linen, 40″ x 30″)
Harpies (oil on linen, 28″ x 36″)
The first idea for this exhibition was “Mitra” and the last was the “Owl of Athena.” They are like bookends for the series – depicting gnosis and wisdom. One stands as a morning star atop a pile of foregone ideas. The other is an erudite guard who can see into the darkness. Both illustrate mastery.
Mitra (oil on linen, 53″ x 33″)
Own of Athena (oil on linen, 24″ x 20″)
Can you tell us about your time spent painting in Norway?
A few summer nights in Norway, I went out to the rocks facing the North Sea to sleep. It was when I had been struggling with a composition and I was searching for some answer from the sky. I remember waking up to the sun rising from the water over my left shoulder. At that moment, morning wasn’t a despotic digital number. It was a spectacle and a breath of fresh air. A little stiff, I walked back, made coffee, and climbed the stairs to talk with Odd. I don’t know a contemporary who outdoes that giant in terms of quality and output. He is a devoted student of the natural world. Life moves to a special rhythm at the Nerdrum farm. It is primed for painting and stories.
Explain Kitsch and how you fit in with that style.
The Kitsch mindset is one of sincerity and interest. It holds a childlike love for the spectacle and a devotion to the craft needed to create the spectacular. Sentiment is favored over irony and timelessness is upheld above originality. The old masters were kitsch in this way. Kitsch stands in for the lack of classical drama in contemporary art institutions.
Like Lowbrow, Kitsch flips an insult and revives the values lost in art’s shadow.
Who is the ancient Greek painter Apelles and how does he relate to your work today?
He was known for dark, dirty, and power-filled mythic pictures. We know about him from Pliny the Elder, who said he was the greatest painter who ever lived. Both Titian and Rembrandt were students of his methods despite living 2000 years after him. Now all of Apelles work has been lost or destroyed. However, because Rembrandt lived only 350 years before us, we have a link to the great Hellenistic master.
Imagine paintings at the same level of quality as the best in Greek sculpture; those beautiful marbles and bronzes, which were more difficult for the religious iconoclasts to destroy. Apelles has achieved a mythic status as the best in fantasy painting. I imagine visiting his Mediterranean studio for refreshing inspiration.
What do you see in the future for your plans as a painter?
I anticipate exploring other landscapes and characters in the realm of myth. I’ll keep digging into lore. Having a kid was the beginning of something very special for me. I’ve heard other painters say this and now I know it is true.
I made the painting “Family Troubadours” to be the three of us in a decade, a ragamuffin crew of Pan-like revelers telling stories; a little unruly, and very happy.
LORE opens at Copro Gallery on Saturday, November 10, 2018. As a special thank you to those who join, Luke Hillestad will be personalizing special prints that will be available to anyone attending.