Shortly after moving to Waynesville from New York City in 2004, Luke Allsbrook received an unexpected invitation to accompany a certain royal personage coming to the United States for a five-day tour of California. He was asked to serve as “Tour Artist,” a sort of court painter, having been recommended by a British artist he’d met on a French painting tour.
Allsbrook’s host during those five days in the Bay Area and Marin County today bears the title of King Charles III. The newly minted sovereign’s notable art collection includes the paintings made by Allsbrook during the tour.
“My experience painting as ‘tour artist’ for King Charles was pure plein-air painting,” says Allsbrook, whose work is also numbered in collections ranging from Duke Divinity School to the U.S. State Department, and who will exhibit at Blue Spiral 1’s Farm to Table group show this spring.
“I was working rapidly on small panels in one sitting, documenting the scenery of the places His Majesty was visiting,” Allsbrook explains.
When not adding to the fine-art holdings of the British monarchy, Allsbrook — who grew up in Augusta, Georgia — usually paints at a more leisurely pace, and his oil paintings are brushed with a velvety luminance. He and his wife left New York for Waynesville wanting a more natural setting in which to raise their four children, and Allsbrook had extended-family ties to the area (his grandfather had worked at NC State’s Test Farm in Waynesville).
Whether painted close to home, across the country, or abroad, his landscapes are composites of multiple visits to the same location, blending dozens of visits into a single image. “Reality is not static,” Allsbrook says. “Everything I see is in a constant state of growth or decay, so every time I go [to the same location], it’s different. The painting becomes a single image that describes my experience viewing the scene over an extended time.”
The infinite variation in light and shadow — playing over a leafy stream bed, say, or filtering through a window into an empty room — has long captured Allsbrook’s attention. “To look at those things is like eating to me,” says the artist, who counts Wyeth as one of his earliest influences, although his deepest mentor is painter Edward Rice of Augusta, whom he’s known since childhood.
With their carefully applied underpainting, layering, and meticulous brushwork, Allsbrook’s canvases seem to glow. And his figurative work adds narrative complexity to all this radiance. “Suddenly, the painting is not only about the challenge of depicting realistic light and space beautifully,” Allsbrook notes. Emotion, myth, spirituality, and even politics may come into play.
“Painting a face is another level of content for the artist to handle,” he acknowledges. “But no matter what it is — a face, a cloud, or an apple — the goal is the same. You’re trying to reduce the thing to a pattern of color that your eye is perceiving.”
Luke Allsbrook, Waynesville. Allsbrook’s oil paintings will be among the work of a dozen visual artists included in Farm to Table, on view at Blue Spiral 1 Gallery (38 Biltmore Ave., Asheville) March 3 to April 26. For more information, see lukeallsbrook.com or bluespiral1.com.