Interesting People #2
The Interesting People series was furloughed after its first outing with Mike Willis but after five months – it’s back! Maybe HIP was overcome by the sheer quantity of people we could write about, the paradox of choice*.
In this issue we talk to Sassy Luke, a Hastings resident for the past 21 years If you’ve already seen her about town, you may have wondered ‘Who’s that?’ She’s a strong presence: 5’10” tall, with striking features and an unusual style of dress, a kind of understated flamboyance.
But she’s actually quite reserved and you’ll most often see her at events connected with her art, promoting at galleries or selling in local markets. In fact she feels her shyness has held her back to some extent as she can easily lose confidence in her work – though she feels this is quite common amongst creatives.
Entering her flat on the first floor of her Georgian seafront flat, you are overwhelmed with the sense of someone who lives their art – or is it more someone that expresses who they are through their art? It is described in an article in Surrey Home as “veritable cornucopia of rescued objects, family heirlooms, upcycled treasures and Sassy’s original artworks”. That description leaves a lot to the readers imagination, but you can check out the reality at priceless-magazines.com/interiors/the-mother-of-reinvention.
I see connections that not everyone else does and this is what powers my work
My experience of walking into her apartment is of being astonished by how so much ‘stuff’ can been woven into the fabric of a home – to the point of almost creating an artwork in itself (though I’m sure the flat was on its best behaviour for my visit). Later I read a review of her Heroin & Heresy exhibition at See Spray Gallery in 2019 (reported in HIP Issue 140) “Sassy Luke is known for being a master of adornment of the icons that wallpaper our everyday lives”.
Her early life growing up in Cornwall provides clues to her development. Along with her parents she was often hung out with people from the nearby art colleges (to the point of swimming in the Cornish sea with luminaries such as Molly Parkin, described as the ‘last bohemian’). And her art inspirations speak volumes: artists such as Goya, Salvador Dali, Hironimus Bosch, Edward Hopper, and Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s not surprising that adjectives like edgy, tongue-in-cheek, surrealistic, subversive and humorous have been used to describe her work.
But her imagination was apparently first fired by her father’s choice of bedtime reading: CS Lewis, Roald Dahl, Oscar Wilde and Edward Lear – and especially Der Struwwelpeter (or ‘Shaggy Peter’), a dark, humorous, frightening, and subversive children’s book written by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845.
She says he’s always had a passion for drawing “instilled from a very young age by my mother”: it has to be said that her mother, Juanita Homan, studied under the Russian Cubo-futurist sculptor Osip Zadkine and is an interesting person in her own right.
But as far as Sassy is concerned, she’s always known she wanted to be an artist. “I think my brain was just mapped out that way, more so than in the conventional academic way,” she says. “I see connections that not everyone else does and this is what powers my work. I like to mix the ordinary with the extraordinary and create images that are not easily forgotten.”
On the other hand, she says she didn’t particularly excel in academic subjects, though she hastens to point out that “I do have a number of ‘A’ levels and a university degree – even if it didn’t come naturally!”
She also says that she’s never really been ambitious or interested in money: “As long as I could pay the rent and feed my children, that was enough for me – I’m sure my children wished I’d had a ‘proper job’ though!” She even thinks that lack of money, or interest in money has helped her creativity. “I think having too much security might dampen my creativity – but having said that, a little security at my ripe old age, wouldn’t go amiss!”
After leaving Cornwall she went to London where she attended the London College of Printing to do A levels in art-related subjects – as well as getting married at the tender age of 18. Having finished her studies, she set up a landscape gardening business with her husband in Frome (reminiscent of Hastings?) which they ran for three years.
After her son, Ossian, was born (now an actor and currently in East Enders) the family upped sticks and moved to a mountain village in Andalusia where her then husband was from: it was there that she developed her love of Moorish art and architecture that is the inspiration for some of her interior design. She was also inspired by the customs and folklore of the Gitanos, the gypsies of Spain.
While there, she was busy being a mother, but still managed to grab the odd moment to do her art – which kept her sane. But at 24 she was back in the UK with her son doing a degree in Arts & Illustration at the University of Brighton. And just before moving to Hastings she had twins, Iona and Assisi, which meant she was now busy with three young children; but she continued her artistic journey, albeit sporadically.
Like most artists, Sassy’s income has had its ups and downs, but she hit the jackpot with her pictures of the Queen: “It was a game changer for me. I’d seen Chris Levine’s exhibition at the National in 2012 and bought the postcard. I loved the informality of the shot. In my eyes it was an image just ripe to be altered. I often see this in images, but this caught on and just flew off the shelves!” She added that it had paid her rent until far cheaper replicas sprung up all over the internet.
She still recalls with pleasure the time a Saudi Arabian prince sent his courier to pick up a one-and-a -half metre picture of The Bubblegum Queen. She says of this and other altered images “My imagination is such that, that I often see an image which is crying out to be subtly altered.”
Her latest work is a set of Covid Inspired cards. She insists that she means no offence with any of her work, whether religious, relating to the monarchy or to world events such as Covid. But as Tom Bartlett of See Spray Gallery describes them “Tired old images … are given as right good snazzing up with wicked humour and precise skill. Comforting but completely new and better … and riddled with treason.”
Talking about her life in St Leonards, she says, “It’s a huge source of inspiration for me. Hastings has a wealth of talent and I love this town.” She drew on her typographical skills from the London School of Printing to create the iconic Keep Hastings Weird – initially spotted on the back of a lavatory cubicle. Dropping in a bit of inter town rivalry, she followed up with Keep St Leonard’s Weirder causing a heated “but amusing” online debate. To further add to this theme and acknowledge the influence of ‘out of town’ property buyers, she’s recently added St. Leonard’s Actually. “So let the controversy continue,” she says.
*The Paradox of Choice is the title of a book which addresses this issue: (2004), Barry Schwartz.
• To find out more about Sassy Luke and see a full collection of her works, visit https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/sassyluke
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