Luke Passey is to me a true artist, so versatile that he can take on any ideas, any form of canvas and various mediums from painting, street art, textiles, digital art, photography, lino, graphic design, murals and what else, oh yeah rugs!
From Withington Walls to Common Bar, Sushi Marvel to Yard & Coop, you can see his work all over Greater Manchester and beyond. His style feels like an upbeat graphic based abstract expressionism with bold waves covered in digital inspired strokes that draw your eye deep into the image. Imagine Cy Twombly and Bridget Riley had a baby that was raised by Saul Bass.
You only need to see one to know who's style that truly is, but who is Luke Passey what's his story?
Who is Luke Passey?
Thats me, a 25 year old artist living in Manchester. I’ve been here for 6 years? 7 years? One of the two. I moved to Salford for uni, from a really small and boring city called Worcester, near to Birmingham.
What’s your story and where did your practise begin?
I’ve enjoyed art in some way for as long as I can remember. My Dad would just draw dinosaurs at my request and then I’d colour them in. He’d draw a pterodactyl free hand, I was just amazed as a kid. Looking back those drawings would even impress me now. Just a kids felt tip on plain paper, but so much detail! I think if I tried to draw a dinosaur now, it’d look like my 5 year old self had drawn it.
Some of my earliest memories are me entering colouring competitions at the local community centre, I must have only been 4 or 5. My Dad would find out about them somehow and go pick up a sheet, with an outline on it. He’d just give it to me and I’d colour it in, he’d take it back and that was that. I won a few of those competitions too but was never really bothered, I just loved colouring in.
Not a lot has changed, haha! Dad worked in a factory making push bikes and would always tell me he wished he had pursued something more creative as a career.
With this, I guess it was a natural thing for me, more of a desire than a practice. I enjoyed art through school but fell off a bit in high school, maybe because I was busy drinking frosty jacks in parks and being an idiot with my mates.
Although I was often an idiot, I always knew I wanted to do something creative when I grew up, what exactly I didn’t know, I still don’t really.
I learnt about graphic design; a seemingly amazing job for a creative person. You don’t hear much about being an ‘Artist’ in school so I guess graphic design was my first knowledge of a creative job which normal people can live off.
I went to college and studied graphic design after school, it was alright, looking back the teaching was real shite though. They put us in front of a Mac and kinda left us to it. I learnt the basic stuff there, Illustrator and boring stuff like logo design and more research than making.
When applying for uni I never really had much direction or inspiration on where to go. My Dad had died when I was in high school and my mum was never the arty one, she worked in an office doing admin stuff 9-5 in Birmingham, something that never really appealed to me, or her really. She worked hard at it though, anything she did, she did it good. I always admired that. So yeah, that continuous, almost invisible creative support I’d grown up with was sadly gone by the time I was applying for further education.
I continued the design studies, only this time I avoided a Mac at all costs. I always knew I had much stronger ability when using my hands and I’ve always had a huge interest in learning and a fascination in the making process. At uni a spent a whole 3 years in the print room. At this stage I’d gained a much broader understanding of art and what I liked about it. Abstract art had got me, I was obsessed with the texture and the build up of layers on a painting. I travelled as much as possible and would visit galleries on my travels, mainly across Europe. I guess this is where I gathered interest in graffiti/street art too, there was no such thing in my home town, it was too small for any underground culture really.
You use so many different mediums but where did it begin, do you now have a favourite?
Today I mostly Paint and that’s it, canvas and walls. I've always been interested in photography too, I’d take photos on the family camera as a kid sometimes. I still take photos regularly now but mainly for documentation purposes, I’m yet to do anything professionally with my photographs.
I shoot on film 95% of the time, mostly mundane subjects, shadows on a wall or a passerby with a funny facial expression. I love the science behind shooting film, I used to develop and scan my own photographs but it became very time consuming. Ely at DIYDUK does all my stuff now, I think i’ve dropped like 20 rolls of 35 and 120 with her at once before now. I let it all stack up over months, she must love me, ahah! She’s great though and does a much better job than I ever did. Top recommendation from me there!
I owe a lot to John, the print technician at uni, he taught me insane amounts about printmaking and the countless techniques you can use to create different markings. He’d really encourage abstract ways of making too, open to happy accidents and very DIY about everything. I was never interested in print much before uni, nobody had ever taught me anything about it. I knew of Andy Warhol screen printing flowers and the classic stuff but never knew the vast variety of techniques that have been used for hundreds of years. I was in my element there and I can honestly say I wouldn’t know a load of great stuff if it wasn’t for John!
Rob, another tutor at Salford actually, he was mint. He was a bit mad, he’d probably not mind me saying that either. He knew everything about anything, a proper head full of knowledge. He showed me some great abstract artists, Sol Lewitt, Gerhard Richter and Bridget Riley being a just few of them. I guess Rob encouraged me to paint, this was quite weird for a graphic design tutor but I was loving it.
My final project at uni was basically a fine art project. I was kind of trying to prove a point I think, that graphic design didn’t need to be clean studio, cups of coffee and a MacBook Pro. My Project showed 12 months worth of visual experimentation of pattern, from A4 relief prints to 2mx2m canvas. It explained how the visual element of my design work was all hand made, I used screen printed versions of my paintings on gig posters, I curated a broadsheet newspaper full of patterns which people had made by hand and submitted, I manually manipulated a photograph I’d taken for a record sleeve using various different printing techniques. You get the idea. I basically submitted around 20/30 pieces of art and then showed them how I used them on a design brief.
After uni I was desperate to keep working on everything I’d learnt and been encouraged to do so I needed a studio. I moved in just before I finished my final year and I’m still here today.
I guess my favourite medium now would have to be painting. It’s developed so much for me since those canvas I was painting at uni to almost a totally different aspect of abstract painting. Now I paint murals way bigger than any canvas I’ll ever paint and they’re outside for anyone to see. Yeh painting as a whole is my current fave. Ask me in 10 years though, who knows what I’ll be doing then ahah!
How do you approach your commissioned work, whether it be album artwork or murals? Do you like back stories or do you approach briefs?
Nearly all of my commission work is based around my mural style work now, it's the most versatile and therefore most popular. I’d love someone to commission me on a series of screen prints or something but in reality that’s a rare request. I paint all my murals with spray paint, this means everything is relatively quick, I don’t have to think about the painting much. I never plan a painting of any kind, it’s all just expression really. Clients often ask for a drawing of what I’m going to paint on their shop front and I have to awkwardly say ‘I don’t actually know yet’. It’s a real honour that people still request my work at this stage, that’s a lot of trust!
I’ve not actually done much album artwork for a few years, my laptop broke a couple years back and I’ve been too stubborn to buy one since. I’d love to do more though, new laptop incoming! Musical briefs are just the best, they give so much freedom to work with and are nearly always pretty visually unconventional.
Nearly all of the album artwork I’ve worked on has been for one individual musician, Joe Corfield. We grew up in the same area and both appreciate each other's work a lot, well I can only assume he appreciates mine too. He wouldn’t have asked me to make 3 covers and one more this year otherwise.
It’s great working with Joe anyway, he has great vision and will send me the nicest stuff as reference to work from. He almost directs the whole thing to be honest, I just throw tonnes of visuals his way and we chat regularly about it.
I think that’s key in making work for more refined briefs like album artwork, the communication aspect. If you understand your client and they understand you too, you really can’t go wrong.
What influences you most? Abstract expressionism or great outfits in a film?
I’ve never actually been a big film person you know, my attention span rarely stands to be honest. I often daydream and think about stuff totally unrelated to the film, maybe outfits actually aha. I’ve gotten into films more recently though, my girlfriend has shown me some amazing films, she’s got the best taste and knows far more than I’ll ever know about film and script writing and how wonderful small elements of film can make everything so much better, attention to detail is the one, she’s got it!
With that, abstract expressionism, definitely! We’re surrounded by expressionism every day, whether it be a tag on a wall or a busker on market street, everyone is expressing themselves in some way or other. Clothes are a great way of doing this too, but I think total expression lies deeper than a nice jacket or some trainers. Taking nothing from jackets and trainers, I have nice versions of both! I think expression is all in the head, the crazier the better too
What has scared you throughout your artistic life?
Ermmm, the unknown I guess. Even today I don’t really know what I’ll be doing next month, that’s all exaggerated at the minute as well. You never really know what’s around the corner when it comes to work. You can have one month packed with work and then the next you have nothing. Other than that not a lot I don’t think.
Maybe other artists are worth being scared of, I advise nobody to ever compare themselves to another artist or person, it could really knock you off your own track. In reality, you’re the only artist that matters. Everyone else should inspire you, this is best, especially when you surround yourself with interesting people.
How did it all begin with Islington Mill?
I was actually quite lucky, I’d been to look round with some friends before and discovered the 3 year waiting list. It’s a popular place to be, of course. Fortunately some other friends of mine were friendly with existing residents and were spending a lot of time there working on their own stuff. They had a space become available to them and they needed an extra person. That was me! Those two people have now left. One moved to London to pursue photography and one to a solo studio over the courtyard, to focus on type design.
I now share with two other friends, Danny and Mark who both love painting as much as I do. Danny actually got me much more into painting when he first moved in back in 2017 or whenever it was. His work is very different to mine so when we initially worked on stuff together, we created real interesting outcomes. Now we’re all very much on our own path with painting and generally work separately, although you can't deny that we inspire each other. Even subconsciously. They’re both great to share with anyway, the place is an actual dump most of the time with paint on almost everything in there but we all enjoy that really.
Have you got any stories over your tenure there?
I’ve spent a LOT of time here so looking back there’s a load of stuff I could ramble about, some stuff not really for the internet though! Sounds From The Other City is a festival which the mill hold every year (when allowed), that’s just an amazing day! The whole surrounding area is turned into quite an interesting version of its usual self. Apart from that, nearly everything I make is made in that building and I’m immensely proud of lots of that work, I hope to continue that for years to come.
What does it mean to be part of that community?
As I said, I feel very fortunate. It’s an amazing space lead by some amazing people who genuinely want to do as much as they can for the creative community, in Manchester and beyond. The variety of workers in here is great too, if you wanted anything you can probably get it made in Islington Mill. As well as being full of legends, the mill breeds productivity. So many opportunities are sent to tenants via email every week and they’re very well linked to some amazing galleries/studios all over the place. They also hold great events whenever possible! Movie nights to Exhibitions, you name it.
Can you recommend us 3 artists/bands/brands/collectives/whatever that we should know of in Manchester right now?
Laportss Makes (Rugs) - I recently met this guy as we started making rugs together, he’s a start up with some amazing potential. So great to work with too, he just won’t stop. I’ll draw up the colours and composition of the rug and then he’ll do the actual making. He’s tufted me two small rugs in under a week, as well as working from home. I thought I worked fast!! Those rugs will be available very very soon. I can’t wait to get my feet on them.
Aurelia Magazine - This is an amazing platform for marginalised genders to publish their work. Kya (founder) curates this to shine a light on the beautiful work from people she and so many others find interesting. You won’t find your same old shit from the straight white male, you’ll instead find passionate stories, essays and artwork surrounding personal experiences of the producer and consumer.
David Searsey - A proper nice guy. He works at Fred Aldous in town but also makes great furniture. He’s finding more time to make during lockdown and it's all very pleasing. Super minimal, modern design and all made by hand!
So Luke Passey is a legend eh? Have a sift through his social media and his website and go buy some stuff or if you've got a wall that needs painting give him a bell!
Here is his lovely looking website for you all!