Painter Jeffrey Luque is all about the unexpected detour. He talks about “happy accidents,” and for him, they’re not little ones.
Following big instinctual moments is how the self-taught, Brevard-based artist began creating the flowers that play so prominently in his recent work. “You don’t think of flowers in the high desert,” he acknowledges, “but that’s where I started painting them.” Luque had exclusively focused on figurative painting, but seeing the intensity of bold, colorful flora juxtaposed against the rather monochromatic New Mexico landscape inspired him to incorporate them into his repertoire. A perennial series blossomed, featuring portraits of women adorned with splendid, oversized blooms.
Many painters, even very accomplished ones, find oil paints much too finicky. But Luque, a versatile autodidact, leapt from pencil drawing straight into oils with no training. And, unlike most painters, he rarely mixes a palette. Instead, he builds it in patient layers — letting each one dry before applying the next.
Oils have a notoriously long dry time, though, so it takes him six months to a year or more to finish one piece.
“It’s a study in how [the paintings] themselves grow and change during that time, and how my experiences affect the work along the way,” he says.
Luque lived in Black Mountain from 1995 to 2000. Then he returned to his native Florida — with a three-year interlude in New Mexico. He mounted exhibits in Europe and Asia, and in 2017, in Jacksonville, FL, he first presented his large-scale Girl with Flowers paintings while a resident artist in that city’s CoRK Arts District.
The show was a smashing success, with hundreds in attendance, and Luque dressed incognito in order to observe honest, unfiltered reactions to his work. “I usually have a beard and glasses, but shaved and wore contacts,” he says. “As the bartender, I gave out 3D glasses that amplify the wave lengths of light and color. People were looking deep inside the paintings, and were very excited. They still talk about that show.”
The interactive response delighted Luque, for whom art is a vehicle for transcendent self-awareness. Two years ago, he moved back to Western North Carolina. “I want people to get lost in my work and explore themselves when they look into it,” he says.
When the magnitude of Luque’s canvases (six feet by five feet) combines with his exquisite use of pointillism techniques, it creates a powerful dual dynamic. From a distance, they look like lifelike portraits. But moving closer, one starts to see many finely detailed intricacies that Luque describes as “almost abstract.” He compares that experience to how people relate to each other every day. First impressions trigger deeply wired, wary responses.
“But when you get to know people in a deeper way, you see the intricacies beneath the chaos, and the hidden influences that create who they are.”
Luque’s own experience is a case in point. “In high school, I was very isolated. I had a stutter and big eyebrows, and people thought I was intimidating. But when I moved to Black Mountain, the community was very nurturing and supportive.
“I could manage my stutter, no longer felt isolated — and that is when I started oil painting.”
Jeffrey Luque, Brevard. Luque’s studio is located at 162 West French Broad St. in Brevard and is open during Brevard’s 4th Friday Gallery Walks. His work is also part of the Indivisible group show at Continuum Gallery (147 1st Ave. East, Hendersonville, continuumartnc.com) displayed through Sunday, March 5. To learn more, visit jeffreyluqueart.com or “Jeffrey Luque Art” on Instagram.