Schools Big and shiny possibilities

  • By Louise Swinn
  • This article was published more than 11 months ago.
  • 31 Jul 2023
Luke Sinclair in his studio. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

Luke Sinclair entered the Archibald Prize with a self-portrait that also serves as inspiration for his own students.

By day, Luke Sinclair teaches art and textiles to students from Years 7 to 12 at Gladstone Secondary College. By night, he paints. This year, Luke entered the Archibald Prize with a full-scale self-portrait – a homage to the teacher–artist that even features a little nod to his union membership.

Luke was working in the entertainment industry for several years before COVID-19 brought him back to teaching. “I decided to go back to something that’s got some heart in it; something that means something more than just going to work every day for the pay packet.”

Similarly, he didn’t pursue painting because he wanted to be rich or famous. “I want to pass on my love of art,” he says. “It’s a very personal process and I want to share that very honestly with my students.”

Luke Sinclair's self-portrait was an entry in this year's Archibald Prize. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

The reality for any working artist who teaches is that it is nigh on impossible to find the time to prioritise and maintain your own artistic practice amidst the busyness of the teaching life. So, Luke decided to incorporate his practice into his teaching. 

“Because I’m teaching Art Creative Practice in Year 12, I thought I’d go back to the large-scale work I used to do, in all its complexities. It was planned with the students in mind, because I want to push them to consider more extensive work. I wanted to show them they could go bigger; they could work on a scale they’d not conceived of.”

Luke also wanted his students to see that it’s not all just about the portfolio. “What’s after the portfolio? I want them to explore all avenues. I want to open their eyes, especially for students who are confused about their pathways. 

“It’s also about them seeing that artists do have a second gig – they make their money, and they also make their art. You might have to do something secondary for an income. The reality is it can be done, and this is how.”

He worked on this painting fast so that the turnaround time would fit with his students’ learning. He was keen to show them how to use high-tech mediums as well as
modern ways of working with old-fashioned mediums. 

Luke had considered entering the Archibald Prize for a number of years. Lewis Miller, the TAFE teacher who taught Luke to draw, won the Archibald in 1998 for his portrait of artist Allan Mitelman, and has been a finalist seventeen times. 

Luke included the initials of his Year 12 art students on one side of the canvas, and his own teachers and mentors on the other. “Those who helped me get to where I’ve gotten to and those who I hope to help get there.”

And it is not only the students who are inspired by Luke’s endeavour – a fellow teacher who hadn’t done any of his own writing for years has written a personal piece and shared it with his class. Both have found that incorporating their art practice into their teaching is making for a winning combination.

In his Archibald entry, Luke wears an art-inspired t-shirt featuring an image of coloured pencils. “I have a collection of more than 2,500 pencils from all over the world and throughout time. The pencil is a symbol for me – of creativity. Through the pencil comes all design, all art. It is a symbol of where the idea leaves you and goes into the world.”

“This is big and shiny, and I’m showing them it’s all entirely possible.”

He also wears his teacher’s badge and holds the Nagao Higonokami knife he uses to sharpen his pencils. “I wanted to wear my teacher’s garb – what I wear on a regular day.”

Notably, Luke also sports his AEU lanyard in the portrait. He is a proud union member. “I wanted to be sure that if something went awry, I would have the union to turn to, because you never know what’s going to happen. It’s always good to have that place to turn if you need it as a teacher.”

He hopes this project will reignite the energy of his students, who are understandably a little flat after several lockdown years making art in their bedroom. “It’s all being documented. I’m putting it together as a kind of lesson-plan memoir. This is big and shiny, and I’m showing them it’s all entirely possible.”

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