Artistically, power can be channelled in many ways. It can be part of a bigger agenda, or something more personal; the created product can intend to reach as many people as possible, or as few; it can be large-scale or small; it can be completed with boundary-pushing technique, with effects, using real people or places, using colour.
In the context of street art, it’s in the driving seat. The grand-scale mural is a power play, but so is an obscure or hidden work of graffiti. There’s something unanimously methodical when it comes to this medium. Visually, something is being said, always to an audience. Street artists aren’t producing work that’ll gather dust on a shelf or decorate the walls of a gallery – no matter how lasting, the art is there for you to access, to visit, to find.
It’s a very particular kind of gift to the public, different to paintings, films or music. The medium is entirely unique, which is another source of its power. As are the people responsible for the content. Take London based graphic artist Luke Embden – Luke works across many different disciplines within the contemporary art and design industry: he’s produced limited edition screen prints, completed large-scale murals, fashion print, bespoke artwork.
His clients list includes Coca Cola, Desperados, Google, Lovebox, MTV, Nike, Red Bull, Starbucks, and many more. Since June, Luke has been Covent Garden’s artist in residence and is mid-way through a series of artworks to be found around the London district, covering the area with his signature bold colour palette and infectious graphic style. He’s also painting the street bollards at this month’s Pride.
I spoke with Luke about Covent Garden, his career, and his work…
Q: You’re now Covent Garden’s artist in residence. How did that come about?
A: The Covent Garden team got in touch and explained that the area is always looking to bring unique experiences, brands and artists to the estate to give visitors exclusive experiences. After seeing my Animal Print pattern artwork Covent Garden offered me a Summer Residency, which I was delighted to accept.
It is a great project to be involved in – I can cover such an iconic area in London with my art and become a part of its rich history. The team felt the vibrancy of my artwork could brighten up the estate and visually bring to life the feeling of an endless summer. We discussed a series of projects which has led to this beautiful collaboration. I love a creative challenge so it has been really interesting working around Covent Garden’s foundation, for example the iconic Covent Garden Market building is a listed building dating back centuries, so you can’t quite go and throw paint all over it! Although I have been tempted.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your style? How has it developed and who do you take influence from?
A: As an artist you are forever evolving and growing, I draw heavily from the Pop Art movement, artists like Keith Haring and Robert Rauschenberg to Henri Matisse’s paper-cuts to name a few!
Q: You work across different mediums, but what do you enjoy working on most?
A: I enjoy working with a variety of mediums but currently spray painting is the one I prefer the most, as I can quickly cover large areas and it allows a broad range of techniques to be used with can control and different caps used. I also want to get back into paper-cuts… watch this space!
Q: Tell us about what you’ve created for Covent Garden.
A: So far, I’ve created the Endless Summer Vinyl Graphics, which are an animal print graphic entwined with typography, which can be found throughout the streets of Covent Garden. Then in the past weeks I painted a shop façade on James Street celebrating the arrival of Summer, inviting everyone to discover the area.
Q: You’re also painting the street bollards for Pride. Do you think it’s important for artists today to engage with contemporary issues?
A: As a creative I feel that it’s important to engage in contemporary issues, whether they be political or environmental. We all should have the freedom to visually or vocally express our points of view. Covent Garden have partnered with The Albert Kennedy Trust, which supports homeless LGTBQI+ people, and will be donating £1 for each person that posts a picture of the pride bollards using #PrideInCoventGarden. I like to think my art is going to be helping somebody else.
Q: How do you approach working with such diverse clients? Which companies have been the most fun to work with?
A: Each new client tends to bring a new element of fun and listening to their needs is important to fulfil the brief. I love to travel, so doing an Artist Residency in Croatia a few years ago where I painted a 400sqm Mural in a sleepy village called Žuljana was lots of fun. I also created my biggest digital Mural to date for Nike last year; that was a real labour of love.
Q: A few years ago, you worked with Lovebox festival here in London. Does music influence your work – if so, how?
A: I get inspiration all around me. Music is a huge part of my life as I’m constantly listening to it. Whether it be brainstorming initial concepts or live painting a large mural… I draw from whatever is around me, from my travels, city life or holidays where I’m surrounded by nature.
Q: On your site, your work is described as performance art due to your public interaction. In what way does it fit into this category?
A: When I paint live there’s an element of interaction with the general public, sometimes feeding off the energy of people whilst I paint, for example at a Music Festival! The fluidity of spray painting has similarities to Tai Chi and can be extremely meditative. Painting live in public spaces is always exciting, from the locals’ feedback to young and old people wanting to have a go at spray-painting… anything can happen which adds an element of surprise and excitement!
For more details on Luke Embden and his work, visit here
For more details on the Covent Garden residency, visit here