Luke Baggott, a successful South African artist in New York, explores the impact of artificial boundaries on people and their environments
In the words of the artist:
“My paintings incorporate amalgamations of elements from multiple locations and perspectives. I try to play off the real with the imagined; realism with abstraction in an attempt to disrupt the familiar, thereby providing a new kind of engagement with New York through the eyes of a new arrival, confronting competing impulses of connection and disconnect”
Despite early recognition in South Africa, Luke was drawn to the most dynamic art scene in the world, New York City. The prestigious New York Academy of Art, founded by Andy Warhol, accepted Luke on scholarship into their Master of Fine Arts program in 2017.
Luke’s remains true to his South African identity and his art-making is informed by his life in South Africa. The issues and observations that intrigue him in New York speak to more universal concepts, mediated through a South African lens. His experience as a painter on a farm in the dry Western Cape motivated him to reference environmental concerns in his work. The felt impact by different people of climate change remain prevalent themes in his New York work. Luke sees the potential of cityscapes as a powerful metaphor to portray the universal challenges of migration and associated responses to loss and displacement, without overt figurative interpretation.
His broad yet unconventional art training included music performance and composition, a Fine Art degree and a Masters in Digital Arts, attracted the attention and support of prominent artists like Karel Nel and Andrew James, Vice President of the Royal Portrait Society, who encouraged him to stay true to his artistic vision.
Luke cites his major influences as the Ashcan School of Painters, including George Bellows and later Edward Hopper, who lived in and painted New York City in the early 20th Century. Luke admires their dedication to portray poorer neighbourhoods in New York and the struggles of the destitute as well as their brilliance and sensitivity in juxtaposing beautiful painting with difficult subject matter. Likewise, Luke’s paintings draw the viewer in through considered, beautiful painting, while simultaneously disrupting our sense of visual comfort through his exploration of complex and challenging subject matter. Luke references his experience as a foreigner in New York City, a demanding, sometimes hostile environment that requires a process of painful adjustment, even abandonment of self, to find a sense of integration.
Alienation is a powerful theme in Luke’s work – always questioning what it means to belong. Luke plays with our expectations by presenting familiar imagery in unfamiliar ways, disrupting preconceptions to facilitate internal debates about our relationship with ourselves, with each other and our world.
Luke’s New York artistic development has been further enriched by training from some of his painting heroes, including Vincent Desiderio, Alex Kanevsky and Margaret Bowland to name a few. The celebrated painter, Bo Bartlett, is currently mentoring him.
Luke has received numerous awards, grants and scholarships throughout his career, including the Hudson River Fellowship and the Ruebhausen Scholarship. He was recently made a Resident Fellow at International House. Luke was awarded the Academy Scholar Award from the New York Academy of Art for both 2017 and 2018 as well as the David Schafer Collector Scholar Award and the Thea Petschek Lervolino Patron of the Arts Award.
Luke is the three times recipient (almost unprecedented) of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant. Alyssa Monks, credited as one of the most important female artists in the world today and a supporter of Luke’s work, nominated him for this award, which has enabled Luke to paint a substantial body of work for his upcoming exhibitions.
Luke currently works from his studio in Harlem. We can expect art that continues to explore how the City reveals the contradictions between connection and disconnection while exposing the felt experience of alienation that affects us all.
Luke Baggot’s work is on exhibition in Chelsea, New York and a solo exhibition in February 2020 in TriBeCa, New York.