Cities Above Subterranean Underworlds: Sculptures by Luke O’Sullivan

Philadelphia-based Luke O’Sullivan is known for his sculptures of built environments. These diorama-esque works consist of two parts. The part above the ground is clean and sophisticated, speaking of technological advancement and social progress. And the part below is made up of pipes and ladders. The greater the heights of the city, the harder and tougher the depths.

What could the structures mean? As first, they may point to the importance of solid foundations, like the roots of a tree. They may symbolise hard work and ingenuity. But other implications emerge gradually. Industry generates impressive habitats – for whom? It appears, only for the privileged. Perhaps an entire class is hidden from view, slogging day and night in dark, cramped conditions. The contrast between the two sections is sharp. The wealth doesn’t trickle.

Luke O’Sullivan

“I create sculptures by silk screening hand drawn buildings onto wood,” the artist explains, “and arranging them into cities above subterranean underworlds. For the past six years, I have been making a series of drawings and sculptures of fantastical landscapes. The first and largest in the series measured over 10 feet long and four feet tall. Each sculpture has an area connecting the above world to the lair beneath. The detailed environments above and below ground imply a chaotic or ruined civilisation.”

He continues with his influences: “My fascination with architecture stems from my experiences growing up in Boston and has grown during my time in Philadelphia. There is a playful nature to my work rooted in my early interests in Nintendo games, maps, science fiction and dystopian movies. I like to describe my process as creating a lego set using my own hand drawn pieces. Exploration and adventure are central to everything I make with each drawing and sculpture contributing to an ongoing catalogue of a strange invented world.”


Luke at work


Some of these sculptures, though, are of single houses – instead of an urban expanse. Here the underworld becomes a cosy space where you can seek shelter in harsh weather, store secrets and treasures.

Luke was born in 1984 in Boston. He received his MFA in Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009 and a BFA from The Art Institute of Boston in 2006. He has exhibited in solo and group shows in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New York, and Philadelphia. His work is part of several individual and permanent collections, among them the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Fidelity Investments in Smithfield, RI, Boston Public Library and the Art Institute of Boston. Luke is currently working on new sculptures and drawings for a solo show in September 2017 at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia.

Links: Website ( | Tumblr ( | Instagram (

Images used with permission.