Luks was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and raised in the southeastern anthracite region of that state near Pottsville. His parents supported the miners and their families, instilling in their two sons empathy toward the working classes and the simpler things in life. Luks attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts only briefly in 1884, but while there met Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens and Everett Shinn who, with Luks, formed the core of The Eight and later were dubbed the Ashcan School. Luks’ work as a newspaper artist both in Philadelphia and after moving to New York in 1896, honed and quickened his already significant skills as a draftsman while further stimulating his interest in contemporary life around him.
Undaunted by the rejection of his paintings from the National Academy in 1907, Luks continued to paint the city, prowling the streets for material. He painted scenes of everyday life throughout Manhattan. His interest in humanity was never quenched. If he failed to have his ubiquitous sketchbook with him, he grabbed everything from linen napkins to scraps of paper in order to hastily record a passing sight that would catch his eye. Shortly after the turn of the century, Luks’ work was becoming well received in New York. He exhibited with the Society of American Artists and at the National Academy of Design. The sale of his paintings allowed him to leave the newspaper to concentrate on painting in oil and watercolor. Luks had a long and productive career, ending his life as a well-recognized American artist with an impressive body of work.