Luke Van H: Sunny-Wish-Rainyday-Windsaw

Luke Van H

Artwork’s Title: Sunny-wish-rainyday-windsaw

Material Used: Acrylic on wood panel

Studio Based: Toronto, Canada

Luke Van H, sunny-wish-rainyday-windsaw, acrylic on wood panel, 18” x 24”, 2020

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

The physical making component of my work is very procedural. It starts with a completed digital drawing in Photoshop, which becomes the map or instructions for the painting. After deciding on the scale of the painting and prepping my painting surface, I’ll project the digital drawing and trace it onto paper. This becomes the key drawing, in which all the individual layers and stencils are traced from. I think of the process similar to the way one might go about reproducing an image via screen printing. Each shape and element needs to be traced and have its own stencil cut for it. For certain elements of the composition, the stencil process (tracing, cutting, registering, etc.) can be more labored than the actual airbrushing portion. I’m fascinated that the stencils are inevitably destroyed in the completion of the painting and much of the labour is not immediately-apparent in the final product.  Through this process, through each minute step, the painting is distilled.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Digital garden world.

How did you come up with the new painting idea of “Sunnywish-rainyday-windsaw”? Is there any story behind this work?

Well, a good chunk of my paintings function as an imagined vignette or an episodic window into a larger imagined reality, where the paintings operate as a portal to an expanding digital garden world. I like to imagine the paintings as a documentation, or screenshot a viewer would take if  they were able to scan or survey the environment (akin to a virtual eye or Google Streetview) and exist within this digital garden world. The images contained within the paintings are scenes or scenarios one could find in my own digital garden world. Sunnywish-rainy-day-windsaw is just one of many works that offer a glimpse into this mythical space.

In particular to the story behind Sunnywish-rainy-day-windsaw, I am very into windchimes, whirligigs, and weathervanes. They’re just so beautiful. They’re this strange amalgam of sculpture, painting, sound and they’re activated by nature. I like that they’re decorative, mechanical but also functional, and possess this salt-of-earth-charm and unpretentiousness. I watched lots of videos of people making their own whirligig designs and thought of these people as artists collaborating with wind. Just google Shelburne Whirligig Festival and you’ll see what I mean. But yeah I wanted to make my own weathervane from a saw so I painted one. I like the idea of objects being jimmy-rigged together semi-haphazardly to serve a strangely specific function, even if IRL they would perhaps struggle or suffer in that functioning. I think Windsaw is an example of that.

Let your Garden be something. Let it mean something.” This the main message on your website; could you elaborate your thoughts on this statement?

“Let your Garden be something. Let it mean something.” is my mission statement in a way. It serves as a cheesy motivational quote for making my work. It’s kind of meant to be a read as a faux-inspirational, generic quote you might see in someone’s shabby-chic home or like a product tagline you might hear softly whispered at the end of a perfume commercial. It can be read in deeper ways too if you consider the rich and varied history of the garden as a symbol or metaphor. I like it because its dumb and smart, just like most famous inspiring quotes.

Unsuspected and softly surreal garden landscapes, equipment or tools seem to be a remarkable fascination in your imagery. Is garden a kind of permanent motif that you draw inspiration from?

Absolutely, yes. I grew up in the suburbs and I think that the options for expressing oneself through their home are pretty limited because the houses are either the same or similar. I think this lack of variety and non-identity is a catalyst for people to express and create through altering the landscape. My parents were always tending to the garden and gradually expanding it over time. I feel like their garden is their magnum opus. My brothers and I often helped with tasks and used various gardening tools. In a weird way, I think gardening is the ultimate installation art. If you think of gardening in that way as an artistic endeavour involving nature, gardens become a window into the gardener’s mind, in the same way any art form is an expression of the artist. Then individual elements of the garden become more poetic, symbols or icons that meaning can be derived from.

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you always come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning?

For the most part all my work begins on the computer. Paintings that are later produced in acrylic airbrush, are originally created digitally. When I’m working on my computer, I spend a lot of time just surfing the web and uncovering images and videos, and just see where the rabbit hole takes me. Not enough people just “surf the web” anymore. There is randomness and spontaneity to that process because you never know where clicking on this or that or finding one youtube video then going through that accounts uploads will take you. That being said I do have self-imposed parameters set out when doing so, so randomness is constrained. It’s a weird combination of alchemy and archeology. In this process I actively seek out the obscure or strange, but I think a lot of ways of doing that are disappearing because algorithms are making things generally less random.

Sometimes I start a digital drawing with a narrative or image in mind and get halfway then scrap most of it. I rarely try to force it if its not working out, but the beauty of working out ideas digitally is that it is so plastic and there’s  always ctrl-Z. 

Large or small scale canvases dilemma; are there any kind of standards that drive you to decide which surface length is better fitted for your final painting visualisations?

Most of my paintings right now are 18” x 24” (45cm x 60cm) simply because I like the idea of standardization and making a series of paintings at the same size. I’d like to make more larger paintings. It’s just a matter of storage and space in my studio. 18” x 24” feels big enough whilst remaining portable, intimate, accessible and not spatially dominating. I only work larger when I feel the image needs to be.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

I always envision my works as something to be lived with, something to build rapport with over time. So I would say living in peoples’ homes. Please let my art infiltrate your domestic space.

 It’s difficult for one to extrapolate significant meaning or build an emotional relationship just by seeing a work of art once. You need to sit with art I think.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Way too many but artists that immediately come to mind now are Alex Colville, David Hockney, Austin Lee, Fairfield Porter, and Wayne Gretzky.

Do you ever wonder if additional work was needed, when an artwork’s making process is finished?

I used to always be indecisive of when a work is done, constant questioning of revisions or different elements to add. I still am a bit but because the work is first completed digitally I’m more confident about whether something is resolved.  I can tinker with it in digital and can try on many different hats for any given image so I tend to know better when to stop when I’m actually painting.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

Currently my studio is at home, in the corner of the living room in my apartment. It consists of a large work table, and some storage where I do all my painting. A lot of preliminary work like gessoing, sanding, taping, tracing and stencil work I do on the floor but i’ve always enjoyed working on the floor, it’s the biggest table money can buy!

What do your mum and dad think about your art?

Generally very supportive and were always encouraging and validating me when I would draw as a kid. I think they’re happy knowing that I’m following my dreams of being an artist. They don’t really understand my work or think about art in the same way as I do, but I’m really glad that their passions of gardening rubbed off on me and they can connect on that level with my work.

Which are your plans for the near future?

Potentially looking at getting a studio space where I can make larger works and sculpture. But it’s all dependent on COVID as well as financial viability. Toronto studio spaces are damn expensive. Also planning to improve my skills with 3D modelling and animation – I really want to make short film. Mostly just looking forward to seeing my friends and running into old faces again.

Additional Paintings

Luke Van H, Deck-light-at-night, acrylic on wood panel, 18”x 24”, 2020
Luke Van H, Onestreambecomenine(multiplicationofstream), acrylic on wood panel, 18”x 24”, 2020
Luke Van H, Butitsourhometoo, 18”x 24”, acrylic on panel, 2020
Luke Van H, rainy-wish-sunnyday-glovewindmill acrylic on wood panel, 18”x 24”, 2021


All images courtesy of the artist

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