Each month, Seasalt celebrates Cornwall’s vibrant artistic community by shining a light on the county’s creative pioneers. This month we chatted with Luke Frost about his life as an abstract artist living and working in West Penwith, his family and his perfect day.
What role does colour play in your work?
Colour has played a huge part in my life from the year dot, it’s something I’ve been brought up with.
When I work on a series of paintings, each work evolves from the other. The colours tend to change, because I’m constantly mixing and finding different things, layering to give depth to the surface colour.
Do you mix your own colours, can you recreate it from scratch every time?
I’ve got a code book and hundreds of jars dotted around in boxes, of all the colours I’ve used. I have them available to me in case a painting needs touching up or I need to remix the colour.
I write down what I’ve used, the different colours, whites, cobalt blue, purple, I can then recreate it, but it takes time.
What colours are you drawn to at the moment?
I’m drawn to different colours every day. Currently I’m experimenting with deep, dark colours, painting with deep reds then putting dark blues on top.
I can’t tell you where it’s going to go after that. I write the colours down or paint a colour swatch that I can go back to just in case I forget.
You come from a family of celebrated artists, how has that influenced you?
It has advantages and disadvantages. I’ve always loved it. Some of my earliest memories are up at my grandparents’ house above Newlyn. My dad and I would go up there for our second breakfast, we used to have cheese on toast with Marmite, cups of tea and a good chat. We would often go into my grandfather’s studio before heading down to my dad’s studio.
Being from a family of artists… it’s great, I love it, I’ve always loved it.
Art was all around. Maybe I should have worked in black and white! You’d have thought I would have gone against colour, but it’s ingrained I suppose.
Are there particular artists or anyone who inspires you day-to-day?
I always find going to a gallery is a good place to go if you can’t think of what to do. Maybe this is just a little idea or the way they use the paint, or a colour or shape.
When I was at university in Bath I was into the American minimalists. Dan Flavin the florescent light artist, Barnett Newman, Donald Judd. Then you’ve got Blinky Palermo a German artist who unfortunately died in his 30’s but he was a great minimalist, a colour minimalist. I like art from all types of genres, I try to pick little colours from them. Art from any genre can have an influence though.
Your process is unique, how you work with colour, how do you start a painting?
I start with a raw canvas or sheet of aluminium. I like a smooth surface so priming them can take about two weeks. While I’m priming, I have lots of strips of colour surrounding me to keep my mind working.
Colours like red work well small, on a wall, on their own as they’re so powerful.
I put them on the wall and the floor to work out the composition. I draw squares or lines, then masking tape it out and put the colour on. I put strips of tape to find out which colour I like best. Sometimes I know straight away, sometimes I leave it for weeks and come back to it or start again. That’s the process, from that other works evolve.
What are you working on now?
I’m going through an experimental stage where I’m going to work on a series of 20-30 paintings and throw the paint round, experiment and make a mess, see where it takes me.
You teach at Newlyn School of Art, how does this complement your own practice?
A couple of times a year, I teach a two-day colour workshop. The studio can be a solitary place, so teaching gets me out meeting people. The students inspire me with their colour combinations and ideas. It makes me think about my work. I’m asking questions and ask those same questions of myself.
What is your career highlight or favourite exhibition?
In 2008 I had a residency at Porthmeor Studios followed by a show at Tate St Ives. I had studio number five which was Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron’s old studio. Evidence of Patrick Heron was still on the wall, reminders for what ingredients he needed for lunch or dinner!
It was a large studio, I had more scope to be ambitious with more time to think about sculptural forms, more monumental work. I was able to feed off the Tate curators, lots of people visiting, chatting about the work, writers and art lovers interested about the history of Porthmeor Studios.
For the final show I had a whole room to myself. To be able to show in a space like that makes you think about your work in a different way, the scale and how it brings you on as an artist.
Do you have a favourite place in Cornwall?
Where I was brought up, between Morvah and Zennor, a few miles north of Penzance. I head over Madron Hill and get this wave of relaxation. No one can get hold of me either, because there is no phone signal!
Describe your perfect day.
A cycle ride early in the morning. Then off to the studio to listen to a bit of comedy while I’m working. If I’m lucky a game of football and a quick pint early evening, then home for a big family dinner.