Augmented Reality Murals

Zealous Stories: Design 2022 winner Luke Gray is a nomadic surrealist painter specialising in large scale paintings on walls and canvas.

His decorative art style uses an almost exclusive black and white palette due to him being colour blind.

‘Augmented Reality Mural’ by Luke Gray

Congratulations on winning Zealous Stories: Design! Your winning augmented reality murals, which are a series of interactive wall artworks for an exhibition in Hainan, China, are activated when scanned with a mobile phone app. What originally drew you to working with augmented reality?

I’m always open to trying new things with my art practice. So, when an augmented-reality company approached me to create an interactive art exhibition using their augmented reality app, I was curious to see how real-world murals would translate into a virtual space.

I think augmented reality is a good way of engaging younger people with more traditional art forms like mine. Younger people see the world through their phones and augmented reality uses the medium of the smart phone to enrich the artwork rather than compress it and devalue it like phones usually do.

There are a total of 12 hand painted walls, with most walls containing around 8 different animations layered together. What is the process like of putting one of these murals together?

It was a big challenge, there was a lot of moving parts and a very short deadline to complete it for. I work in the traditional mediums of Ink and water, so I had to produce all of the illustrations on paper and then animate them digitally frame-by-frame on the computer, then blend the layers together in one animation. We then had to test the animations would stick to the wall when scanned with a phone from any distance; this would then play smooth animations in augmented-reality when you walked around it in actual-reality.

At this time augmented reality art was quite new and an augmented reality mural had not been done before, let alone an augmented reality exhibition made entirely of murals. We had to figure a lot out for the first time, augmenting a large-scale wall is different than small art works. With large walls you have more factors like the light in the room, people walking in front of the mural, and so on.

‘Augmented Reality Mural’ by Luke Gray

You’ve spent 8 years hitchhiking around the world painting murals for hotels, bars and schools. How do you think this has influenced your practice?

Travelling has affected my practice in a lot of ways, good and bad. Experiencing other cultures gives you endless inspiration to draw on. There are physical things like how different cultures look, dress or live, and more abstract things like how they think, their mythologies and spirituality.

When travelling I try to go off the main routes and seek out indigenous tribes or find the authentic spirit of that particular country. I try to immerse myself and live and learn from them. I take meticulous notes from their textile patterns, woodwork motifs, architecture, tattoo markings, sacred symbols or whatever I can find. It inspires a lot of ideas for my paintings.

The bad thing about hitchhiking and travelling from your backpack is you never have a studio. Your life and work have to fit in a 1 bag, so as an artist you always have to make do with whatever materials and space you have. You learn to use coffee instead of paint or scrap wood instead of paper. It can be brutal because you often have to leave artwork behind because you can’t carry it, which forces you to work on smaller scales. Being nomadic forces you to adapt.

It can also be tough because you don’t have time to you grow a stable career when you are constantly moving, you don’t really have a base. You are limited by the length of your visa, and most visas are no longer than 30 days.

It is amazing to see how much you have achieved! What advice would you give to emerging creatives?

I think the number one thing would be to diversify your skills and have multiple streams of income. I spend about 20% of my time actually doing art and rest is getting leads and negotiating.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in eighteenth-century France where artists could just sit in in a studio and knock a painting out every couple of years and live off that. If you’re from a poor background/country and you can’t rely on rich parents to support to you, it’s going to be a tough grind most of your life.

Statistically 85% of artists are from middle-class backgrounds, so working class artists are a minority in an already obscure profession. If you’re a female artist, you have to work even harder. You’re going to be poor most of the time and you will probably die poor, and you need to be ok with that.

You need to be obsessed with your craft. Do whatever job you can to support your craft, then practice it as soon as you get home from work. You must do it on the weekend while everyone else is partying. Eventually after many weekends of blood sweat and tears you will get good enough to charge money for it, and then you need to slowly transition into doing it full time.

Many people won’t want to pay you for your work. They will haggle. They will ask you to do it for free. Ignore these people. They think your time is worth less than theirs. They don’t respect you.

Mural in Progress

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m working on a few different things at the moment. Private commissions, corporate murals, a book, NFTs, an exhibition, some collaborations, and I’m preparing to start tattooing.

You can find more of Luke’s work on his website and Instagram.


Bethan Jayne Goddard

Community Manager

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