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Brushstroke genius

Extraordinarily talented alumnus of Eton College, Luke Martineau talks to School Notices about his passion for art and his flourishing career

You could say that some of the chosen few are born with all the gifts! Luke would be your text book example of this. Educated at Eton College, he went on to study at Oxford University gaining a First in English and Modern Languages. Added to this, Luke is both a brilliant musician and excelled at sport at school. With this plethora of talents, we ask Luke how he came to choose art and creativity over academia and we explore his career to date.

When did you first realize that you were artistic?

I think creativity is something which develops slowly over many years, and as a boy I spent most of my time either making things or doing music and reading. During my first summer term at Eton, I spent many hours completing a very detailed still life of pencils and the finished work was published in the school magazine. It was at this point that I first started to think of myself as ‘artistic’.

Did Eton impact on your career?

Very much so. The Drawing Schools at Eton were welcoming, with a wonderful sense of both peace and industry. It was also a place which collected together many of the more interesting people in the school, many of whom felt happy there in a way they couldn’t be in the wider school with its rules and pressures. I remember having started a painting one afternoon and then not being able to get it out of head during other lessons. Once you realise you are always thinking about your work as an artist, you effectively are an artist.

Was there one individual who inspired you?

John Booth was a charismatic head of art –  he recognised my passion for painting and helped me develop it, even driving into the local countryside and leaving me there for hours with my easel and paints. He certainly made me realise I had the skills and the temperament to have a career as an artist. John was also instrumental in getting Eton to recognise the importance of Fine Art as a discipline and in securing funding for a huge development programme for the Drawing Schools.

After leaving Oxford what made you decide to follow your love of art rather than academia?

After graduating, I was asked to return to Eton as a French teacher which I did for a term but it was not for me. I think my mind had been made up to become an artist when I was still a schoolboy, and confirmed during my gap year, half of which I spent in London at art school, and half on a road trip around Italy and France. It was on that trip that I found not so much that I could paint every day and be happy, but that I couldn’t not paint every day without being unhappy!

Tell us about Alice and how her legacy has influenced your work?

My sister suffered from Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and died in 2003 at 30 having signed a record deal with Sony and released her debut album Daydreams. She was funny, talented and beautiful… but also very, very determined. After her death, we set up the Alice Martineau Appeal for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and this appeal has now raised more than £1.25 million. We launched the appeal with an alphabetical series of paintings I did based on Alice, a sort of personal tribute to her, which were sold at auction. So Alice’s influence has been twofold- firstly, she taught me by her own example never to waste a single second. And secondly, I am now not just a painter of landscapes and portraits, I am also an illustrator.

Do you prefer landscapes to portraiture?

Portraits are much harder to pull off, and represent the greater challenge. When you do a portrait there are no end of people with opinions on how well or badly it has been done: trees do not comment on how well you have drawn them! So I think I enjoy painting landscapes in the sense that I find it less scary, but I think that I am always excited about doing a portrait because it offers the chance to do something very good, if you get it right.

How do you get character across in portraits when you don’t know the sitter personally?

I don’t do a lot of formal portraiture. I am more at ease with informal poses and family groups. But I would say two things- first, I always try to spend some time with the sitter and get to know them a bit, whether they are the headmaster of an important school or a three year old! Second, character is conveyed not just in accurately depicting eyes and mouths and so on, but in body posture and gesture. People tend to recognise each other by how they sit or stand, what they do with their hands while they talk and so on, and so you need to get that bit right in order to have a successful picture.

Have you painted any headmasters/mistresses?

I have painted quite a few. Last year I did a three-quarter length painting of Bernice McCabe for North London Collegiate and I also painted Ben Thomas for Thomas’s Battersea.

Do you have a painting you are most proud of?

I am proud of my 52 alphabetical pictures of my children Grace and Tom, the ‘Every Girl’ and ‘Every Boy’ series, and I am just as proud of the subjects themselves, even though they are now in their mid teens. Although the pictures started as a sort of ‘homage’ to William Nicholson I think they are quite original too.

What historical artists are you influenced by?

Too many to name them all, but Claude Monet and the French Impressionists, Turner, Sargent, Freud, Bomberg, Stanley Spencer, William Nicholson.

What words of encouragement would you give to young aspiring artists?

Having a successful career as an artist is not the same as being good at art. An artist friend of mine once told me about the three M’s in business: manufacturing, marketing and management. The first one is easy – and is usually the reason people think about becoming artists in the first place. The second is harder but not impossible to develop, and the third one is really tricky: how much time to spend on which pictures, for example. Whether to join art societies, whether to show in a gallery or on your own, how to price your work, etc. There are no completely right answers, you need utter dedication and not to be be deterred by failures, and you need to listen to other people. Finally, it’s not at all easy being an artist. Self-doubt is inherent in all creative endeavour, and you will need to find a way to live with it!

How much technical/classical training is needed?

As much as you can get exposure to. Constable famously (and snootily) said that a self-taught artist is taught by a very ignorant person indeed. It can be argued that we are all self-taught in that artists all have to develop their own language over time, by exposure to a unique set of influences, values, voices and experiences both in and out of the art room. But formal training accelerates the learning process, and I certainly benefitted from my stints at Heatherleys in west London.

What is your motto for life?

I think I would choose a quote from Alice Martineau’s Daydreams: ‘Nothing lasts forever’.

Any dreams still to be realised?

I’d like to find a way of painting that perfectly expresses the beauty and wonder of the world, but in my personal way – I think that is a worthwhile goal, and an elusive one. It is hard to be the splash itself rather than just a ripple, and in the meantime I don’t think I have really achieved my dreams yet.

Luke’s next exhibition – ‘Luke’s Big Open Studio’ – is being held over the weekend of Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd December at Unit 1A, West Point Building, 39-40 Warple Way, London W3 0RG, 10am-4pm daily, with work available to buy direct from the studio and online from £500

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