Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Birmingham-based printmaker Luke Sewell, aka @lukeprints.
We’ve had the great pleasure of watching Luke’s skills and career develop first-hand, and when he came to us with a new project based around a GK Chesterton poem, we couldn’t resist. You can watch our interview with Luke below, or keep scrolling to read Luke’s deeper thoughts on his journey so far.
I’ve been making linocut prints for just over four years. I bought a starter set so that I could design an invitation for my wedding in Christmas 2015, inspired by the work of Sputnik’s own Ben Harris, and by deep and long-buried memories of carving blocks in secondary school.
I dusted off the gouges in 2017 when I was doing a Museum Studies masters at Birmingham School of Art. Most of my fellow students were studying some kind of fine art and I just wanted a simple, embodied process that would give me a creative outlet. My boss at work gave me a smartphone at the same time, which gave me access to plenty of inspiration from contemporary printmakers such as Lou Tonkin, Harry Brockway, Kathleen Neeley and Nick Morley on Instagram. The Kathe Kollwitz retrospective on display at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery at around the same time was also very formative.
The enforced lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 turned what was a hobby into a vital discipline that filled large amounts of free time, gave me purpose and to my great surprise and pleasure became something that could at least financially sustain the cost of the materials required, with a little change. All of this has occurred in parallel with my almost-ten-year involvement in Sputnik, as art has proved increasingly vital to understanding and practising my faith.
The question of what draws me to Tolkien is an enormous one, which I could and probably should write on far more extensively. Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis writes about being too old for fairy stories, before eventually being old enough for them again. Over the last couple of years I’ve grown old enough for Tolkien’s work to undergo something of a renaissance, particularly in awakening a desire for the sacramental. The sacramental imagination in Tolkien’s work changes the way you see reality. It makes the world more real. Trees are no longer just trees, nor rocks simply rocks. Bread and wine will never be merely food and drink again. Middle-earth rescues us from the prison of a flat, material world and points us to something higher, nobler, more beautiful – and ultimately true.
He does all of this not through a series of persuasive arguments or essays, but adventures and myths that are participatory, immersive in their consistency, enormous in scale and beautifully sorrowful. Tolkien’s treatment of loss, death, decay, defeat and hope without guarantees has helped me survive the last year after a sudden and devastating bereavement and I believe his perspective is increasingly vital for Christians and Christian artists preoccupied with a sentimental and often shallow positivism.
The work I make is only a small symptom of way Tolkien has lifted my focus to the sacramental, to wonder over ideas. Like Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “Ideas create idols. Only wonder leads to knowing.” Hopefully the work is illuminated by that focus, but I imagine it will take time – much of it so far has been quite a derivative method of meditating on some of the stronger images from Tolkien’s work and tracing where they have come from; Tolkien was an excellent subcreator (to borrow his own invented term), reusing and repurposing ancient images and patterns embedded deep in our collective subconscious to create something that is nevertheless vibrant and alive.
My current work concerns itself with another modern mythic story deeply connected to the soil we find ourselves on (if you, like me, are reading this in England). G.K. Chesterton’s 1911 epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse is about an end to the world, which is a theme I’ve always enjoyed. We are often vain enough to think that the end of our world is the end of the world, but many worlds have come and gone whilst the sun continues to rise. How do we understand our faith if the ending of our world isn’t what ultimately ushers in the Second Coming and the Age to Come?
It’s also about a gathering doom and how we might go about living under that kind of foreboding without knowledge of what the future holds. Much of the time Christian hope seems to be defined by an eschatological certainty of what the future holds, whether that be over the longest, eternal arc or considerably shorter ones if you belong to a tradition that continues to deal out Jeremiah 29:11, or prophetic encouragement of the prosperity that awaits us in the coming season with cheery abandon.
Chesterton outs hope based on certainty of the future as definitively pagan. Christian hope is set apart by the fact that it makes no such assurances about what awaits us, true faith instead being sublimely painted by Saint Mary’s beautiful, mysterious and troubling words to Alfred;
“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
“Night shall be thrice night over you
And heaven an iron cope
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?
My wife Emily and I have recently welcomed our first child into the world; a son called Edmund. As we collectively face a future of climate breakdown, the dying throes of a deeply flawed economic structure, transhumanism and increasing political authoritarianism, how do I reckon with the decision to bring a life into such a world, a defiantly hopeful act that a good friend described as “the badass opposite of suicide”? How do we partake of the joy of giants; the joy without a cause?
I don’t know. But The Ballad of the White Horse at least encourages us to explore the question. It does so with wit, some stunningly beautiful use of the English language and the sense that it will require more from us, the Church, than the belief that God will make the bad and uncomfortable things go away if only we pray and believe hard enough.
If that onslaught of wisdom wasn’t enough for you, you can follow Luke at @lukeprints. Why not join us in supporting fantastic artists like Luke, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more right here on our website.