This new series of works on paper are the result of the fluid interaction of natural and man made materials. They are executed under an open sky, at dawn or dusk, sometimes in the rain or late at night, and they remain close to the ground or the water, where the shifting light radiates across the salt marshes and the tides move back and forth through the delicate maze of creeks and channels. They reveal chance encounters with a myriad of visual stimuli: passing birds, rolling mist, scattered flora, wind blown leaves or drifting shapes, floating on, reflected in, the passing streams. They are a fragile record of process and time, the uncertain result of a particular moment of elemental engagement, made without correction in one sitting. The location provides just a beginning, a way of collecting particles of colour and light and a way of observing the play of prevailing conditions on a paper surface which, once it is scattered with incidental markings and stained with coloured inks and organic matter, is then allowed to become saturated by the surrounding waters.

In an extract from a letter to the artist, Robert Macfarlane writes: ‘ I might try to articulate what I find so unusual and compelling about the work: its localism, for a start. But also the hover between encryption and archetype (enigma and fabulous openness).  “ As you hold on to a leaf, a shell, feather or pebble before returning it to its microcosmos, you learn to see not the names of things but the things themselves”. Absolutely. We are both collectors, but not in the possessive sense of that word; quite the opposite. Surrenderers of sorts.’

Robert Macfarlane is the author of The Wild Places (Granta, 2008) and The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (Penguin 2012)


‘Every painting is a veil, though given that many abstract painters have sought to vanquish the inherent illusionism of the medium, perhaps we should say, potentially so. The paintings shown here are characteristic, in their layering of diluted, stained and poured oil paint. Ostensibly abstract, in the sense that they are flat, dispersed in structure and without figural content, they manifestly suggest liquid, flowing, reflective surfaces. That which they enact, then, they also configure. Elwes has a migrant past, having lived for part of his childhood in Iran, and he is attracted by remote and desert regions. While the desert, in its aridity, might seem the opposite of these apparently liquid formations, there is an underlying affinity between water and sand, and a liaison between both and the wind: sand is formed and moved by the wind, and flows like water, forming waves and ripples. Elwes intends his paintings to form themselves correspondingly, in a microcosmic recapitulation of these natural processes of flow and inundation.’

(Brendan Prendeville, Goldsmiths College; extract on Luke Elwes from ‘Another Country’, an essay for the Estorick Collection, London 2010)