Luke Embden is a graphic artist, muralist, illustrator and self-professed doodler who divides his time between London and Berlin. Luke has an expansive portfolio, having worked on projects across a variety of mediums for an ever-growing list of high-profile global clients including Covent Garden London, Coca Cola, MTV, Hyundai and Starbucks.
Luke’s distinctive work can also be seen on George Street, Oxford where he created a bold and bright mural in his signature style last September. The piece encourages the public to stay safe and protect the community during this time of pandemic. We spoke with Luke to find out more…
Hi Luke, can you tell us a bit about your career and the type of work you create?
"I am a graphic artist and muralist splitting my time between London and Berlin. I love creating community-based artworks and am always open to interesting commissions and collaborations. Feel free to reach out with regards to any exciting ideas or large walls that you think could do with a splash of colour!
I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing brands through my career to date, the biggest project being a 30-meter digital mural for Nike in London.
I was also hired by Covent Garden Market as their first artist in residence a few summers ago, which involved creating beautiful vinyl window graphics and spray-painted murals around London’s busiest shopping districts. Other highlights include being asked to paint the front wall of Abbey Road Recording Studios to mark the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles Abbey Road album, and painting one of the recording studio walls, which was an honour and huge pleasure. I also had the pleasure of painting one of the biggest murals in Croatia, a 400m2 piece in a beautiful sleepy seaside village where I stayed for three months as part of my first artist residency."
How did the Stay Safe mural that you created on George Street come about?
“The story behind my Oxford city centre mural was that Fusion Arts and partner Oxford City Council did a call out for a mural project late last summer based around social distancing and the ongoing pandemic. A friend sent me a link literally the day before entries closed, so I sent previous work examples and a quick initial sketch of my vision for the site-specific mural.
"My vision was to mix iconic imagery associated with Oxford, wordplay and bold graphic imagery which is my signature style."
Initially, I loosely sketched up the design and knew that I wanted to have a strong colour palette that reflected both the hot summer that had just past and the beginning of autumn that we were about head into, so the mural was a variety of warm yellows and reds with a splash of magenta and orange! Winters are always so drawn out and grey in the UK, so I wanted this piece to pop and uplift the community throughout the winter months, which I feel it has done.”
How long did the Stay Safe mural take to complete and what processes were involved in it?
"The Stay Safe mural in Oxford was painted in two and a half days, I totally lucked out on the weather as the whole week was glorious warm September sunshine. Design time took approximately a day to draw up, with this graphic style I’ve developed over the past few years. I was lucky to have Tommy Watkins, another Oxford-based artist, who assisted me in filling in sections of the block colour. Having Tommy helping definitely sped up the painting process."
As you are usually based in London and Berlin. What drew you to do this work in Oxford?
"I am originally from the nearby Chipping Norton and grew up visiting Oxford. I also spent three years studying art in Oxford so my connection to the city runs deep. Creating artwork for a place that I really have a strong bond and history with made the design process easier for me as I knew what elements I definitely wanted to include in the piece."
What was the inspiration behind the colours and symbols you have used for the Stay Safe mural?
"It’s always hard to please everyone with artwork but I wanted to create a mural that was playful, bold and colourful and that uplifts you and makes you smile whilst walking past the piece. A strong symbol within my work is to project positivity and love, so I had to get a heart mixed into the piece.
"In these testing times I always feel that we need to look out for each other and spread a little more love."
As love is universal, the symbol translates regardless of what language you speak, so I felt that it connects with everyone in the diversity of the city."
Can you recommend another inspiring creative or creative resource for us to check out?
"There are lots of open houses in Oxfordshire with Art Weeks happening at the moment, so I’d highly recommend people looking on the website to see which local artists are showcasing nearby where you live. It’s great to support local creatives and to be able to talk with them about their practice and creative process. More can be found here. I’ve also been listening to Actor Russell Tovey and gallerist Robert Diament's Talk Art podcast recently.
I honestly get inspired by walking around the city or countryside. When in London recently, I loved walking around the city especially around Regent's Canal to Hackney Wick to see the constantly changing graffiti and street art in the area. Gentrification is in full swing there and changing the region dramatically but there are still some great pieces there that are both politically and visually captivating. Off of Brick Lane, next to where the Nomadic Community Gardens used to be (now cleared to make way most probably for another high-rise building) there are some amazing graffiti pieces going up around the park!"
Thanks for chatting, Luke! How can people keep up-to-date with you?
"To see what I am up to with my work and adventures feel free to follow my Instagram, Twitter and my website diary. I’ve got lots of updates and exciting projects upcoming... One being Glastonbury...Watch this space!"