There is a dreamer’s eye to the work of London-based artist and designer Luke Edward Hall, whose wandering brush strokes give life to now-signature motifs of Grecian columns, classical busts and boys sporting romantically aloof expressions. He deftly balances a sense of longing for far-off places, times and figures with a masterful eye for color that ensures a jolt of modernity in distinctive artworks that have been emblazoned across velvet slippers for Stubbs and Wootton, fashion campaigns for Burberry and playfully reimagined travel souvenirs for Le Sirenuse hotel in Positano.
Hall’s creative impulse emerged during childhood in Hampshire where his imagination was stoked by Greek mythology and the creation of a fanzine, Cake — which chronicled his fascination for fashion, music and art — while a weekend job at a National Trust house nurtured a nostalgic heart and penchant for antiques.
Intent on a career in fashion, he studied at London’s Central Saint Martins; however, shortly after graduating, the opportunity to work with noted interior architect Ben Pentreath took him to the world of design. It wasn’t long before the desire to conceive and create his own work saw him strike out on his own with an eponymous collection.
Travel serves as a way to refresh the eye for Hall, who makes creative pilgrimages to sites he reads about from the pages of history, be it to discover the color palettes of Rajasthan or the grand scale of a castle in Bavaria. Destinations not yet visited making their way into his work as a precursor to actually traveling there — the tension between myth and reality fusing into a particular kind of magic.
“I’ve done lots of drawings of Morocco and of people in Moroccan settings, but I haven’t actually been there so it’s exciting to finally see it in real life,” Hall explains from London. “I think there’s something quite powerful in picturing a place before you’ve been and taking inspiration from it.”
Where do you think the sense of nostalgia and romance comes from in your work? I’m a total romantic at heart — I just am — and I often look to the past for inspiration. For example, I’ve been interested in Greek and Roman mythology and English folklore since I was very young. I have always had an overactive imagination and been drawn to stories of legends and magic. I have lots of obsessions with different periods in time, one of them being the 1920s and ’30s, and the artists who were working then such as Rex Whistler and Cecil Beaton. I’m also very much inspired by the Bloomsbury Group. I think a lot of designers and artists are inspired by the past. I think you have to be. Then I try and reinterpret things in my own way.
How does travel and imagining far-off places feed back into your work? I read somewhere that Karl Lagerfeld has not been to lots of the places he’s done collections based on and that he creates from his imagination, and I do think there’s something quite interesting about that. On the other hand, I also think you have to go and experience a place in real life to truly appreciate it. There is something magical about going to a place and comparing it to how you’d imagined it. When I went to Rajasthan, it blew me away because it was ten times more amazing than I thought it was going to be, and I’d imagined it to be spectacular.
Has there been a place that’s particularly inspired you? I wouldn’t say there’s been one in particular. I think I subconsciously take inspiration from all the different places I’ve visited. Although in saying this I go to Italy a lot and find it extremely inspiring on many levels.
What keeps you going back? I love Italian cities — Rome, Venice, Florence. I also love the countryside. I love the food, people, culture, architecture. It all comes together to create an intoxicating experience.
I feel like the idea of the Grand Tour is particularly linked to your aesthetic. I definitely find the idea of the Grand Tour inspiring. I love the fact that it was essentially a cultural holiday for young men from England (of means!) to go and look at art and sculpture and beautiful things and generally just be inspired. In the same way, when I travel, I’m always looking for beauty and inspiration for my work.
What other destinations have been inspiring your imagination lately? I’m obsessed with King Ludwig II who built all those amazing castles in Bavaria. He was a very delicate, soulful, romantic character. He had a difficult life and didn’t really want to be a king and built his incredible castles as a kind of fantasy to escape into. Sadly, he died quite young in very mysterious circumstances. I’m desperate to see his castles. Afterwards I’d like to take the train to Salzburg and then Vienna (to catch Wes Anderson’s current exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum). Yes, I very much fancy a Mitteleuropean adventure in 2019!
Where was your last vacation? I visited Méribel in the French Alps for a couple of days in early December and stayed with a group in a chalet high above the village. I’d never seen a snowy mountain before and it was my first time seeing people on skis. It was very exciting and strange — seeing these things that I guess are kind of obvious and normal but were totally new to me!
Where will your next vacation be? Another first, I’ll be going to Marrakech. I can’t wait. I’ve dreamt about visiting Morocco for years. We might explore further afield afterwards, too, to the Atlas Mountains perhaps, or Fez.
The thing you can’t travel without? Three or four novels, good headphones and my sketchbooks.
Plane, train or automobile? I like taking trains, I find it very calming. Flying can be fun too. To be honest, I still find the actual act of traveling kind of wondrous, in many of its forms. It’d be boring to lose that sense of wonder, I reckon. I drove with friends recently from New York City up to Massachusetts for a weekend in their 1995 Mercedes wagon and it was great fun. They came prepared with a hamper full of cheese and cider and we drove along snowy roads listening to good music, the Hudson River snaking along next to us. I guess you can’t really beat a fun road trip.
The people you’d most like to sit next to on a long-haul flight? My boyfriend, Duncan, and quiet people, preferably asleep.
What is your in-flight ritual? On long-haul flights I’ll read my book, watch a movie I’ve seen about 100 times before no doubt, maybe listen to an audiobook about cooking or something, then sleep. A good moisturiser is a must, usually one from Aesop.
The language you wish you spoke? French because I like the way it sounds very much.
When were you happiest while traveling? I drove with Duncan from LA to San Francisco via Big Sur over ten days in early January 2018 and the whole experience made me very happy indeed. We rented a Mustang, stopped off at tiny inns in the middle of nowhere, woke early and walked in the mist along the coast, stayed in log cabins and tents in the woods. It was an absolutely magical trip.
Desert island or downtown? Downtown, I think. I reckon I’d get bored quite quickly on a desert island. I’m not good at sitting still.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be? The Gritti Palace in Venice. It’d be quite fab to have an apartment on the piano nobile overlooking the Grand Canal.
What is your room service indulgence? I tend to prefer going out for food, but if I’m on my own it’s a club sandwich, for sure.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night? Probably the Madonna Inn in California. We spent a night there on our way from LA to San Francisco during our trip. I’d seen the hotel in pictures and was curious, because I love a mad, full-on interior. It turned out to be…an experience. The decoration is beyond nuts — our bathroom had a kind of faux stone shower and the dining room is a whirlwind of Barbie-meets-Rococo weirdness. I distinctly remember eating dinner whilst a swing dance class was happening right next to our table. Fun for one night only, perhaps.
What is your favorite market? I love Venice’s Rialto vegetable and fish markets. They are so full of life, the produce is incredible and the market buildings are very handsome.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be? Tricky! I’d love to go back to the late 1920s/early 1930s — between the wars — I’d want to spend time in the English countryside and I’d travel through Europe too — France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland… It’d be fascinating to see England and Europe during this time, before the horrors of World War II descended.
What are the show-off spots in your hometown? In London, I’d say Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House and the glorious buildings of Georgian Bloomsbury.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year
A weekend in Venice, Italy.
A week in Los Angeles, USA.
A month in The West Country, England.
A year in New York City, USA.
Your biggest extravagance on the road? I always seem to accumulate things wherever I go, usually vintage clothes and books, ceramics, glassware — whatever catches my eye. For some reason things always seem much more enticing on the road than they would at home. For example, a few weeks ago I picked up a 1960s embroidered velvet waistcoat from Afghanistan in New York’s East Village, which I’ll probably hardly ever wear, but at the time I declared it to be an essential new addition to my wardrobe.
Describe a memorable meal from your travels. Duncan and I traveled to Getaria in the Basque Country for a wedding a few years ago. We’d read about the nearby restaurant Asador Etxebarri and turned up for lunch without a reservation. Somehow we managed to talk and trick our way into getting a table. It was an incredibly long and languorous meal (I framed the wine-splattered menu as soon as we arrived home) and afterwards, half drunk, we spent the afternoon lolloping around the nearby village, meadows and mountains. It was wonderful.
Travel hell is? Oh, a long delay in a busy, grim, gray airport.
Where are you ashamed that you’ve never been? Vienna! Well, I did visit for a day or two when I was eighteen, but I haven’t been back since and I’m desperate to get there for the exhibition Wes Anderson has curated with his partner, Juman Malouf.
Three favorite stores on earth? This tiny shop that sells only ceramic fruit and vegetables in Venice (I can never remember the name, but I can find it on a map), this excellent vintage clothes shop in Florence called Melrose and absolutely a bookshop, but I have lots of favourite bookshops – it’s like a whole other category. My two top picks are Three Lives & Company in New York’s Greenwich Village and Librairie des Archives in Paris.
Most treasured travel memento? Difficult to say, I have so many. One that sticks in my mind is a small and very colorful framed painted portrait of a maharaja (or perhaps he’s a maharana) that I picked up in Udaipur. It came from the most charming antiques shop, owned by a fantastically knowledgeable father and son team. It was a lovely experience rifling through their bits and pieces and buying from them. I’ll treasure the picture forever.
Why do you travel? Because I’m curious! Like most people I love exploring new places and seeing things I haven’t seen before (and, very importantly, eating things I haven’t eaten before). Travel is important for my work, too — I need to refresh and reset on a regular basis. I’ll always be inspired by the places I visit.
Conor Burke is a creative director and photographer living in New York, by way of Sydney and Dublin. He oversees PRIOR’s creative, having previously run photographer and interior artist Martyn Thompson’s design studio. Before that he was the market editor at VOGUE Living and a contributing editor at GQ Australia.