Island Life with Luke Rion November 12 2023

Luke Rion is a New Zealand born artist, who is currently based out of Melbourne, Australia. Brought up on a healthy diet of video games and animation, Rion currently experiments with narrative concepts peppered with childhood memories; nostalgic video game consoles and an endless interest in nature. A lifelong love for merging images into narrative form fuels Rion's search to create more realised and complex painted realites. When this task is achieved, at the plump and ripe age of 99, he will teach himself to play the banjo. 

Luke's show The Island opens November 17.

Interview by Bernadette Butterworth. Images supplied by Luke Rion.

We are so excited for your upcoming solo show at Outré Gallery! Your last show with us was titled Lost Relics which explored the changing technology in gaming and the nostalgia that arises from your relationship towards that change. What does The Island have in store for us, and is there a narrative that continues on from your last show?

Lost Relics was a truly earnest response to what I loved as a child that has since become lost. It was a simple and focused concept that provided a path to explore through my painting practice. This narrative has definitely evolved and morphed in size since my last show at Outré. The Island is an attempt at merging my love of a bigger, more complex narrative into what I initially loved about painting loney consoles.

The Island is the first show of a larger narrative which will expand over multiple shows and different mediums. It takes the core idea of Lost Relics then twists and bends the premise into a different realm. It's a bit of a mystery that will gradually be revealed. 

Your work often depicts lonely consoles discarded in natural landscapes or urban environments that have been reclaimed by nature. Could you tell us a little about why this juxtaposition appeals to you?

At first it was an aesthetic response and a mourning/celebration of, in my opinion, a golden era of game technology. During the process of creating work for Lost Relics, an observation was emerging that these consoles were suspended within an environment which changed the tone of the subject. This harmony between environment and object has always been of interest to my process and also an endless source of wonder that spurs me to keep going. 

Has your practice evolved in any way since we last caught up with you in 2019? Could you tell us about anything that you enjoy or have found challenging?

My practice is definitely more efficient and laborious simultaneously, it's more about a growing presence with the painting. I've always been cautious of the space between the planning and the actual process of painting. I've found observing the colour field while painting, and responding to what happens when a new colour is added, is more important than having a prescribed plan that is easy to execute. It took me a while to grow more aware of this state of presence, but I believe it's where the magic lies in the work.

The colour palette you use in your paintings is very particular and soothing to the eye, what draws you to certain colours and is there a process that helps you choose?

The process for colour is time consuming but built into my approach. I mix colour toward or away from light. That is the best way I can describe it. I'm always asking myself if it feels like light is entering the environment. Sometimes it doesn't work but I need to follow through so I can try again. There is a loose systematic approach but a lot of the time it's about watching each painting evolve and responding to the colour that is on the surface. 

What has been the most rewarding response you have had to your work?

Some lovely people have given me their old consoles as reference for painting. I think their love for the subject matter is in synchronicity with what I want to project in the work. To me it's like an 'I see you' moment. Also people describing a subtext to the work that I would have never have considered. 

Do you have any dream projects that have yet to come to life or that you would like to venture towards?

Yes, to continue on this path of painting and so many other projects. Ideally it would be to build a world of concepts for others to explore. I hope in the future to build a game on the same subjects and themes from this show. Publish a few zines that also tie into The Island concept.

You once reflected that your work can either expose your doubts or show your intense love. Does this quality come through in your latest show and do you find it leans more heavily towards one or the other on this occasion?

I feel as if I'm more protective of myself and my process these days and I believe my emotional intent has become less clear over time. Lost Relics was singular in its intention whereas The Island is a mixed bag of feelings, movements, thoughts.

So, In short, Lost Relics was like a banana of emotion whereas The Island is more like a fruit salad of emotions, ha!

This leads me to my next question, what was your favourite piece to create and why?

My favourite piece of the show so far, is 'POINT BLANK COVERED IN BRAMBLES WITH MEGA DRIVE AND YOSHI’S ISLAND'; the resolve on this was totally unpredictable but I love the subtle colour shift in the painting. It has definitely been one of those works that made me go aha! Spending hours staring at colour makes you get a little obsessive over the small things. 

What games/media/podcasts have you been consuming this year? Has any of this found its way into your latest works?

A lot of true crime podcasts there is something about painting while being partly distracted that helps with the intuitive process. I feel like in some ways these discarded consoles are like bodies melting into the landscape. I can definitely draw a connection there. Tears of the Kingdom and Metroid Prime remake are the big two games this year so far. 

What are some of your go-to methods when looking for new inspiration? (Travel? Japan?)

Definitely travel, I went to Japan for the first time this year, it was incredibly complex layered and yet harmonious. There is so much I've absorbed from Japanese culture and being in Akihabra Electric City or Suginami Animation Museum solidified a reality, a connection to the sources of inspiration for me. It felt like a parallel universe, it was incredible. 

My last question for you: what do you like most about being an artist?

It sometimes feels like a compulsion to be an artist. I get a kick out of the whole process but personal current highlights are: the moment when a colour hits the surface when the paint slips off the brush, mmm...satisfying. 

The moment in a painting where you think it is average but you keep painting it may take 20 minutes or 5 hours but the work grows into something unexpected and marvellous; Seeing all the work in one location together sitting harmoniously on a wall; and of course celebrating all of this with friends.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Luke! We can't wait to explore the Island with you!