Luke Elwes was born in 1961 in London, where he now lives and works. His early years were spent in Iran, where the light and space of the mountains and desert were a formative influence. Between 1980 and 1985 he studied at Bristol University and Camberwell School of Art (UAL), and in 2007 was awarded an MA distinction in Art History from Birkbeck College, London University.

While working at Christies he began to travel and write, and after meeting Bruce Chatwin in 1987 he went to the central Australian desert to explore the landscape and its use in aboriginal storytelling and artforms. Since then he has continued to travel extensively, discovering and revisiting remote locations in India, Asia Minor and North Africa. In 1998 he was artist in residence on an expedition to Mount Kailash, a holy mountain in western Tibet. Since 2000 he has also worked for extensive periods on an island off the East Coast of the UK. In 2013 he was awarded a grant to study at the Vermont Studio Center (USA) and in 2015 he was artist in residence at the Albers Foundation, Connecticut (USA).


Since 1990 his work has been exhibited in the following galleries and institutions: Adam Gallery (London), Broadbent (London), Art First (London), Browse & Darby (London), Art First (New York), Galerie Vieille du Temple (Paris), Galerie Marceau Bastille (Paris), Grand Palais (Paris), Palazzo Lanfranchi (Pisa), Galleria Ceribelli (Milan & Bergamo).

Royal Academy London, Christies London, Barbican Gallery London, National Trust, Estorick Collection London, Kettles Yard Cambridge, Southampton Art Gallery, Bury Art Gallery Manchester, Young Gallery Salisbury, Minories Colchester.  He also writes about contemporary art for journals including Modern Painters, Royal Academy Magazine, Galleries Magazine and Abstract In 2011 he was invited to give an ‘Artist’s Eye’ talk at the National Gallery.


The idea of a journey is central to his painting, both its physical and temporal unfolding and its recollection in memory. The surfaces recall maps, tracing the marks of history and the fragile signs of belief, and moving between what is revealed and concealed of these often empty and distant terrains. Rooted in the particular, the images also probe an interior space. Andrew Lambirth has written about them: ‘The map is nearly erased, a distressed palimpsest; it’s difficult to decipher a single clear meaning. The viewer must, like a scryer, read the signs and interpret accordingly’.


Elwes’s territory is both familiar and strange, distant and yet somehow known. As the French philosopher-poet Gaston Bachelard wrote in Poetics of Space, “We cover the universe with drawings we have lived.” The thinly layered surfaces echo patterns of weather and erosion; marks are made then washed away or erased. Ancient pathways across plains, deserts or fields are suggested to create, as Elwes has said, “spaces which are mapped by belief rather than measured by science”. These pathways are markers in the emptiness of the canvas, making sense of the space as they also attempt to make sense of the world.

(Sue Hubbard, The Independent 2004)


View Luke’s writing journal on his weblog here