More about Luke Kite

Luke has been surrounded by metal of all kinds – car and bike spare parts, defunct mechanical bits and bobs and welding equipment – practically since birth and it is no surprise that this familiarity with automotive metal has provided the medium for his figures.

To refer to them as ‘sculpture’ or ‘statues’ seems somehow highbrow, though that is, of course, what they are. Luke Kite Back out of Hell

He doesn’t design his pieces, preferring to work from some rough idea in his head and then develop what he’s doing as he goes along. But his artistic flair comes out in them. The subject matter may be Gothic and many of the pieces from the dark side of his imagination – dragons, scorpions, bats, black Knights, battle stallions and so on but if you look at something like Luke’s ‘ Voodoo Woman and Dragon’ it is full of explosive energy and a flowing movement.

The composition – done on the hoof as it were – is still imaginatively conceived and the artist’s vision translated into the filigreed and polished solidity of the finished piece sweeps the eye back and forth along the dramatic lines of the work. It’s an exciting creation and – irrespective of the subject matter and medium – a powerfully affective piece of art.

That it is so powerful and so unusual owes a god deal to the benign neglect of his Lampeter school teacher Mr Blaney, whom Luke remembers with understated affection: ‘he was ok. He let me do my own thing.’

Mr Blaney did more than that, for Luke left school with a B in GCSE Art, a mark he grumbles about to this day, reckoning an administrative downgrading because of the number of upper end passes cheated him of a well-deserved ‘A’.

He’s not one to bend the knee easily to authority, a character trait of which we shall see further evidence in a moment with the Prince of Wales himself also coming in for a sharp rap across the knuckles.

After his schooldays he spent a year at Coleg Ceredigion in Cardigan taking BTech in art & design, hating the maths but enjoying and benefiting from time spent an a life-drawing class which he attended alongside an older Access group of an evening.

His first job after college saw him back with machinery, but this was far from the freewheeling days of his younger days. He spent two years sewing women’s trousers at Slimma Dewhurst in Lampeter. ‘It nearly drove me out of my mind’.

He then worked in Germany with a group of mates – in a kind of ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ – plastering in Berlin.

And then he was back home in West Wales, exercising his creative talents at the unlikely venue of a tattooist’s parlour in Aberystwyth. The owner was a competent needle man but artistically bereft. Luke supplied the designs.

Since at first he couldn’t practice on anyone else he tattooed his own right and left wrists and both his father’s arms with ‘fairly dark stuff from the Crow, Evil and Tales from the crypt – all Gothic’.

More popular were discreet butterflies and roses tattooed on the ‘shoulders, arms, breasts and butts’ of young women, but all of it came to an abrupt end in a motorcycle crash – ‘not my fault, she pulled out in front of me!’ – When he somersaulted over a car and ‘popped out’ both his thumbs.

He was out of work and on the dole for a year.

The idea of metal sculptures came to him when he was lying in bed one morning ‘trying to think of a reason to get up’. (I’ll make a dragon.’) He made it out of a brake drum, some plate steel and a bit of bar steel. He took it to a health food shop in Lampeter where it sold for between £50 and £100. It was a success which spurred him on to produce a whole range of Gothic pieces – dragons, scorpions, castle creepers and humming birds, plus a large solid Geiger clock.

He also decided to set up in business. To do that he was advised by the local Job Centre that he should contact the Prince’s Trust and to that end they helped him construct a business plan. On the basis of that he applied to the Prince’s Trust for business start-up loans of £3,000. He was one of the first group to go before an interview panel in Aberystwyth. He was not impressed. ‘They were retired bankers. They gave me a real pummelling. It was the time of ‘Foot & Mouth’. They were only interested in the figures – which we’d set low seasonally anyway. They were looking for all the negatives. They weren’t interested in the ideas. I told them, ‘Regardless of whether you help me or not I am going to do this.’

They didn’t give him £3,000 but they did give him £800 provided he didn’t go bust within the first year, though how, if he had gone bust, he was expected to pay back the £800 was not clear.

He is also angry that after his work was application for a loan was turned down, the Prince’s Trust used his picture for advertising the work of the Trust.

He went self-employed on November 5th 2001. He is still in business but it has been desperately hard. He has few outlets in West Wales, relying on Narda Mantle’s Maker’s Mark’ in Newcastle Emlyn, Joe & Trudi Finch in Tanygroes, Clare Finch in Devon and Origin Dyfed in Carmarthen. He has no stock or no agent in London. Commissions have been welcome but few and far between.

He praises Narda Mantle – and his mother and father for their support. ‘She (Narda) has been my biggest supporter – brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Without her I wouldn’t be in business now. And if I didn’t live with my mum & dad I just couldn’t do it.’

As to the future, he has all the self-confidence of youth. ‘Hopefully one day I will go to America. I am the only person doing this in the world. One day I will be famous.’

If that sounds self-important, it is necessarily the kind of self-belief which any successful businessman needs to tide him/her over the difficult, morale sapping days – just as much as he/she needs seed corn money to set up a new business in the first place.

But someone in the art world in West Wales should be encouraging someone so talented & unique – and Luke Kite can’t be the only one – to make sure the creative talent of West Wales is publicised throughout the world. A couple of photos on a website can’t be too difficult surely? If elsewhere in this magazine Richard Bramley can point to his takings at Farmyard Nurseries increasing three-fold after he went onto the internet with a well designed website. Surely the arts are as important as flowers & shrubs.

Stop press. Shortly after this article was written one of Luke’s pieces christened Borg Babe featured in the window of The Maker’s Mark was sold for £600. The same buyer also commissioned a chandelier from Luke with space for some 32 lights. It’s his biggest piece yet and something of a breakthrough for him.