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Sculpting a career in the arts

Luke Falconer with two of his works in progress. On the wall in the background is a batik by his mom, Annie.
By Nerissa Card

Rarely does one come across a person who grabs life with both hands and embraces it with bravery and positivity. Midlands sculptor and musician Luke Falconer is one such inspirational individual.

I met the 31-year-old, by chance, at a recent market, where he showed me a picture of a bronze rooster he had sculpted for his landlord, in exchange for rent, of course, because that’s the way to roll these days.

We think Luke’s rooster is an absolute beauty!

And a great way it is. The good ol’ barter system. I would have bartered months worth of rent for the piece Luke produced. It is an absolute stunner.

Anyway, I took his number and asked for an interview. He obliged and a couple of days later I set off deep into the Kamberg to meet him.

Luke lives, very isolated, in a cottage on a farm in the area, “but it’s time for a change”, says the young man, who is heading to Hilton soon.

“I’ve done the ‘cool, I can be alone’ thing here for four years, but it’s time to move on. I need to be around people now and it’s also easier to get stuff out there,” says Luke, who grew up in Nottingham Road.

When he finished school at Treverton he went overseas, hopping between Zanzibar, where mom Annie was teaching, Edinburgh, Bristol and South Africa.

“I travelled for five years, managing to avoid a Midlands winter,” he laughs.

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“I didn’t study after school, just cruised around, doing the jobs I could find, trying to work out what to do.

“I always loved the performance element of being on stage and being a musician, but never put in the time, so I ended up doing a lot of hospitality jobs.

“Then, at the Ediburgh Festival, I saw a band called Zemblameny and became inspired to focus on music. I found a 10-pound note on the floor, topped it up and bought the cheapest ukelele I could find.

Some of the tools of Luke’s trade.

“Sculpting hadn’t really entered my head. I took it for granted because we were involved with it as kids. It was always around.”

Luke’s mom and dad, Dave, owned Birdman Foundry and Gallery in the Midlands. David was also one of the founders of the Southern Cross Music Festival, which Luke says shaped who he is, but more about that later.

“About six years ago, my brother, Seth, and sister-in-law, Claire, started a new foundry. My dad helped us get it going, but just as we were getting up and running he passed away.

“Seth, Claire and I worked together running the foundry and that’s when I realised that I could make a living in the industry, but wasn’t sure what role I wanted to play. I was doing a whole lot of service for others and eventually realised I wanted to do it for myself.

“I have been sculpting now for the past three years and pushing to get my work into the world. I have just got to the point where it has been my main income for a year. There is a lot I still have to do to get it that step further, but I can see where I am going. I have to get use to the social media aspect of promoting my work, which I am getting better at embracing. It’s cool, but can be daunting at times.”

Luke credits his parents for the artist he is. “They had a big influence. What they gave us was huge. Beyond anything else, being exposed to music festivals, like Southern Cross, shaped me.

“As a teenager I constantly had my mind blown at festivals… being that involved and seeing all those musicians on stage, being in awe of them and then meeting them and realising they were just cool people.

Flip-flop hip-hop

“Music is my biggest thing. I spend a lot of time on it, but obviously I love sculpting and have chosen that as my monetary profession. A good bronze sale is a lot of gigs. I am also wary of putting music in that ‘jobbie’ space.”

Musically, Luke is involved in a number of projects. He focuses mainly on rap and hip-hop, with reggae and bluesy influences. “Hip-hop is where my strength lies. I call it flip-flop hip-hop.

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“When it comes to music I am very positive and chipper, whereas my sculptures focus more on the melancholic side of human characters. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I find happy-looking sculptures a bit creepy. Maybe it’s my take on the world and the human race. To me it’s a truth thing. Often we will smile, hiding the truth, if you will. I smile a lot, I battle to let that ‘mif’ side out, so I guess I like to tie that into the characters I produce. I am drawn towards the harder truths of the human character.”

Through commissions Luke has started dabbling in wildlife, but “had to break mental blocks of what it represented to me. I felt wildlife was something that had been beaten out, which is such a naive way of thinking about it because what makes, for example, the big five special are the nuances in the animals.

A bronze by Luke’s late father, Dave.

“I mostly focus on birds. My first was a little kingfisher for my landlord. It was nice to work with someone and their ideas. Then I did the rooster, which is not really wildlife, but a ‘celebration of roosterism’ I guess,” he laughs.

Luke says to get into the bronze-casting market is difficult if you aren’t involved in a foundry, which is why few young people are managing to work in the medium. The cost is prohibitive.

“I am really lucky to have that relationship with my brother,” he says.

Seth and Claire are artists in their own right, with the foundry supporting them as such. Younger brother Josh is a barista. Head to Cafe Bloom in Nottingham Road and you will find him serving up mean beans.

On his move to Hilton, Luke says: “Musically, it is well placed. It is close to Durban and Maritzburg for gigs. I have also realised that with the sculptural side, it is about meeting people and forming relationships that lead to things.I need to place myself where I can do that more.

“I also think my biggest value as a South African is in a bridging sense and you can’t do that when you are isolated. I want to put in effort to help get more integrated stuff going down, like ‘guerilla performance’, where, for example, you just arrive at a venue, a taxi rank for example, plug in and play.”

So where does Luke see himself in 10 years?

“That’s a difficult question. I can definitely see myself having a family and the younger generation is looking at things like that differently. You don’t have to be married. For example, I could see myself travelling around and living in a bus with my adopted kid. I need to tick off living in a bus.”

Go for it, Luke. No matter the mode of transport or artistic genre you choose, we wish you all the best.

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