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, 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 four
James A. Herbert
Research Professor of Art
University of Georgia
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
hand. 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.
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
Did you receive any instruction in art or are you self-
taught? If you received instruction, what schools did
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, Freeman 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 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
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 existence.
What artists inspire you/What is your favorite artist
Caspar David Friedrich, Andrew Wyeth, Vuilliard, Breughel,
Botticelli, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper. Degas, Van
Gogh, Da vinci, painters of the Hudson River School, and
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
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
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 some kind.
How important is self-reflection in your growth as an
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
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
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 gives me has 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.