When Luke Hannam and his wife Tess decided to relocate from their South London home to a sleepy village near the South Coast, they found the perfect place for their young family to grow and stumbled upon an ideal opportunity for Luke’s career as a painter to blossom.
We first had the considerable pleasure of meeting artist Luke Hannam when writing an article on the farmhouse home of Sally and Rob. We walked unsuspectingly into Sally’s dining room and there he was, hanging on the wall. Well, perhaps not literally but such is Luke’s commitment to every canvas that he might just as well have been.
Sally had been in Rye and dropped into McCully & Crane and had seen some of his work. So impressed was she that she immediately called Luke and asked him if he would paint portraits of her two children Zack and Aggy. “I’d never been commissioned to paint a portrait before,” he says. “It was just one of the great things that have happened since we moved down here.”
He had studied Fine Art in the 1980s and while others faithfully chanted the Conceptual mantra of the time Luke perfected his drawing skills and drew inspiration from the early 20th century French painters – particularly Henri Matisse and Picasso. “Matisse was a revolutionary,” says Luke. “At the time he was considered a radical but by the 1980s he looked like the past. But to me his ideas were as fresh and valid as they had ever been.”
Matisse’s use of colour and his genius as a still life painter set Luke on a similar course. “But this meant I was seriously out of step with my contemporaries and as the years passed I thought I would be left behind.” Luke, however, was also a musician and while painting remained his central passion, his creativity found expression in his music – a synthesis of jazz funk and African. “This was post punk – a very creative musical era particularly at Britain’s art schools.”
Luke became part of a successful cult band called Gramme and toured both in the UK and Europe. “At one point we were signed to Virgin and they gave us a lot of money but never released an album,” he says. However, the band then moved to the trans-Atlantic label Tummy Touch and released their first record, Fascination, and are now working on a second album for release in 2015. He also recently set up a college for urban music in East London financed by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which is due to open in September.
Luke loved the music but essentially it was just a highly enjoyable interest. It was what he did, not who he was. Then, tragically, after one of his contemporaries became seriously ill, this realization hit home. Time and life are precious. He should be painting. And the place to paint wasn’t Beckenham. So in 2010, with wife Tess’s full approval, the couple and their three children fled suburbia and found sanctuary in the Weald. It was a move that was to prove truly life changing.
Luke began to spend every waking moment drawing and painting, usually rising with the light to begin work. “Even when I’m not working an a particular painting I’m now drawing – on trains on buses, in the street, anything and everything that catches my eye.”
Following his first show at Rye’s Lion Street Store in 2012 Luke’s work, too, caught the eye – and one eye in particular, that of Marcus Crane of Rye’s exceptional emporium of the beautiful and fascinating, McCully & Crane. Marcus was immediately drawn to Luke’s work and began hanging his pictures in the partners’ premises in Cinque Ports Street and it was here that Sally saw it and decided this was the artist to paint the portraits of her children. “It was amazing! Not only was my work selling,” says Luke, “but I had my first commission.”
What, however, was amazing was that a chance meeting with Marcus had resulted in the break Luke needed. There is nothing amazing whatever in the fact that the work itself is now gaining the acclaim it deserves. I certainly do not have Marcus’s eye, but one has to be seriously visually impaired not to recognize the real McCoy when you see it.
The house the couple chose was not an impressive country pile but a traditional attached, former farm cottage in the middle of not a great deal. It was a complete change from the streets of South London and it brought a complete change of life both for Luke and his family. “It’s small but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit like a boat and it has really brought the family together,” he says. The house it not far from Rye and Luke loves the variety of the landscape. “Winchelsea and Rye, the Fairlight cliffs, Romney Marsh – we just love walking around and enjoying the peace and beauty of the place,” he says. “It’s the first time we feel really settled.”
It’s difficult to describe this house in terms of individual rooms so much is it part of a whole, unified by Luke’s art which, of course, is everywhere. Some paintings are recent finished work, others studies for later work, others favourites from art school, yet others reflecting a new interest in the possibilities of the iPhone app Drawcast with which he now makes literally hundreds of drawings. “It’s a great app and you always have your phone with you,” he says.
The garden is also very much part of the family home with many a twist and turn and with a truly idyllic pond, that should have been painted by Monet, at the bottom on the doorstep of Luke’s studio. Here there’s a work in progress on the easel and a collection of objects forming a tableau on the table next to it.
Luke paints precisely but not literally, led by form and colour but a slave to neither. “I try to make a bold statement not anything delicate or twee,” he says. To Luke draughtmanship is the essential ingredient and he’s won awards for his drawing skills. “You have to have an eye for being able to turn what you see into a mark on a canvas, paper or iPhone and you never stop practising – it’s like a musician going over scales time and time again.
One thing Luke is not, however, is precious about his workspace and he takes great pleasure in his six-year-old daughter Gilda joining him in his studio and becoming lost in work of her own – predictably she’s already showing promise. It’s a lovely image and we take it with us as we leave.
If this has not been an exact description of Luke’s new home I, alas, make no apology and humbly refer any complainant to Luke’s continuing inspirator Henri Matisse. “Exactitude is not truth,” he once said. “I do not literally paint that table but the emotion it produces upon me.”
At the end of a winding path which leads through the garden, Luke’s studio offers a tranquil space in which to work. Fruit, shoes and household objects have been grouped together on a table to form a still life which he is currently painting
For a modestly sized home, the sitting room is generously proportioned and flooded with natural light. A selection of Luke’s still lifes are hung on the walls, their varied colour palettes standing out from the pale walls
Luke paints precisely but not literally, led by form and colour but a slave to neither. “I try to make a bold statement not anything delicate or twee,” he says
Swapping South London for the South Coast meant a complete change of lifestyle for the family “(The house is) small but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit like a boat and it has really brought the family together,” Luke says
Across the hallway from the sitting room, the snug room offers the perfect location for the family to hone their musical skills. A striking monochrome self-portrait is propped on a cabinet alongside Luke’s paintings
Doors from the dining room lead out into the garden. A dried branch hung with tiny silver baubles forms a quirky chandelier in the high-ceilinged kitchen
The house’s low ceilings add to its ‘boat’ feel. Mismatched chairs grouped around the dining table and arrangements of cottage garden flowers add country charm
“Even when I’m not working an a particular painting I’m now drawing – on trains on buses, in the street, anything and everything that catches my eye.”
The garden is very much part of the family home. Luke’s studio is tucked away at the bottom and obscured from view by wonderfully wild planting schemes
The couple and their three children fled suburbia and found sanctuary in the Weald
- Lion Street Store www.lionstreetstore.com Rye 01797224007
- McCulley & Crane www.mcculleyandcrane.com Rye 07932478383
- words: John Graham-Hart
- pictures: David Merewether
- styling: Lucy Fleming
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