Our next Prints & Inks profile features British Columbia-based illustrator Luke Ramsey. His practice includes collaboration, design, public art projects, and detailed freehand drawing. Luke’s collaborative public mural, Transition, with Josh Holinaty (also a featured artist at Prints & Inks) won an award of excellence from The City of Edmonton and a National Urban Design Medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. His latest creation is a public mural at The Drake Hotel in Toronto. Luke is also co-founder of Islands Fold, which was an online gallery, zine publisher, and artists’ residency on Pender Island, British Columbia.
Here’s what he had to say about his work:
1. Describe your path to becoming an artist and illustrator.
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I got into illustration about ten years ago. At the time I didn’t have a computer, so my friend, T-Man, helped me scan a cover for (Seattle-based) The Stranger newspaper. Now I scan my own drawings.
2. What are some of your influences? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Too many to mention. I am so grateful to the plethora of artists that move me.
3. Describe your creative process. What’s the number one tool/technique/material you use to translate your ideas into your work?
Bare with me, as I’ll be very open on such a topic. Being an artist is a modest lifestyle choice that affords me much freedom. Artistically, it sometimes feels like I’m building a dream home in paradise, and then once I’m in that home for a while, it looks like a prison to escape from.
For the longest time it seemed like my art was like climbing a gorgeous mountain with no peak to aspire to, because the view was always beautiful during the hike. My heart is called to art making and it does ground me more than not, but there are those moments that make me feel totally unstable. I’m not a religious person, but I do see angels in life that help us along the way.
It’s interesting that we live in this era where people live online. People construct whatever persona they want. You know, show their best selfie, highlight their greatest moments, write about how amazing their dinner was, how important their happy moments are.
I can have a hard time with reality myself, that’s why I make art. I feel reluctant to be more honest and real in cyberspace, because people have a hard time with reality. Humanity is being censored and monitored to a point where the individual is so far from real identity.
I’m not anti-internet; it’s brought me the bulk of my work and connected me to communities. I’m glad it exists, but I am cautious. Online is so far removed from a reality of intuition and senses.
It’s important for me to connect with real things outside of an illusionary world. Art is a powerful outlet to see the things that are important to me, to look for my meaning in life.
As for art making at it’s core, I do have electric sensations inside myself, bursts of energy that make me want to create. If I ever stop feeling such charges, I hope I can move on and be creative in a different way.
Oh yeah, number one tool? Pen to paper. Although I want to start pushing paint soon.
4. Your work ranges from commercial illustration work for large clients such as the The New York Times to gallery shows to collaborations with other artists to public art murals to Islands Fold. What do you think links your practices and projects together?
I think it’s all linked together because drawing is so fundamental and adaptable. Even when I paint a mural it’s still drawing to me. Drawing is a very simple tool of communication. It can do so much with so little.
5. Your work appears on the street, including murals and installations. What compels you to use the street as a canvas?
I think the street is a very public space, and because of this, the work is more vulnerable to it’s environment. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think vulnerable settings demand creative confidence. Like if someone doesn’t like what I created, it’s OK, because I created what I felt was my best. It is important to consider public perception, but I don’t see myself like a marketable brand that is looking for general consumption. I can doubt myself during the creative process, but when it’s done, it has to feel solid and secure to me.
6. Currently you’re based on Pender Island, BC. How’s it like living there as an artist? Living on an island, how do you connect with other artists?
We’ve been living on Pender Island for the past nine years. It’s a very beautiful and safe place with a strong community. We have good friends and family here that are very dear to us. When we first moved to Pender to operate the Islands Fold residency, it felt like a perfect paradise to invite artists to. It was a great place to connect with artists.
For financial reasons, we haven’t been offering the residencies for a few years. More recently, due to unfortunate circumstances, we are considering a move off-island. Nothing too serious, just trying to read the writing on the wall. We’ve been living in a cottage for five years and it just sold. As renters it’s all part of adapting within a world that is influenced by ownership and property. I don’t believe in buying debt beyond my means, so I have to be open to moving every few years.
We still have so much to be grateful for. There are too many people in this world who don’t even have a home to move into. Change can be challenging, but I feel that movement is magical. Attachment is a hard thing to let go of. I feel that it’s good to get attached to things, because you value and care for them more. When those things get uprooted, it can be hardship to find new soil, but life is not always easy.
Whatever happens, this island and it’s people will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m grateful for the gifts this place has shared with us.
7. What creative projects are up next for you?
I’m having a couple shows this summer with some really solid hombres: OuterSpace Gallery in Victoria and El Kartel in Vancouver. I have a book called IS? that is coming out next year with Drawn & Quarterly. This book will represent the most personal work I’ve created. It will feel amazing to have a copy in my hands, because I am a huge fan of D&Q.
8. Top 3 artists/illustrators/printmakers/designers you’re into right now?
9. Bonus question: Your favourite music artist/band/album?
KID A by Radiohead. If I had to pick one album to be with on a deserted island, that’s the one.