Interview – Lucas Grogan

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 23rd September 2011

Lucas Grogan paints a mural in Hosier Lane, earlier this year (commissioned by Movida and City Lights Projects)

Hosier Lane mural details
Disarm 10 – one of Lucas Grogan’s paintings from his Black & Blue exhibition last year at Iain Dawson Gallery in Sydney (There’s a great little video about the exhibition here).
Lullaby Islands – sculptural works by Lucas Grogan, currently on show at Pieces of Eight in Melbourne

Lullaby Islands in situ at Pieces of Eight in Melbourne until October 1st (next weekend!)

I was first introduced to Lucas Grogan‘s incredible artwork when I stumbled across this great little video of him painting an amazing mural in Hosier Lane, Melbourne.  It’s such a brilliant, striking, graphic work, and it’s incredible to watch Lucas paint so freely on this scale – the forms and patterns just seems to flow from his hand without the constraints of a pre-determined design.  Amazing!  I also love the irreverent and ambiguous quotes plastered across Movida‘s exterior wall (another pic below) – these are sourced from text messages, Rupert Murdoch quotes and newspapers! (I am now trying to figure out which ones came from Rupert Murdoch..!?’)

Lucas grew up in Maitland NSW, studied in Newcastle, and now lives in Melbourne.  He draws inspiration from a myriad of influences – his intricate geometric linework often references islamic motifs and patterns, his needlepoint and embroidered works seem to pay homage to Tracey Emin‘s provocative patchwork quilts, however what is probably most recognisable to Australian audiences is Lucas’ appropriation of traditional Aboriginal painting in some works.

Of course, for a white Australian artist, this is an area fraught with controversy.  Whilst still at uni, an exhibition of Lucas’ early works in Newcastle garnered significant attention from the media and polarised audiences.  Curiously, when Lucas moved to Melbourne in 2009, and started working with rich indigo blues rather than black and white tones, the criticism ceased.  Interesting!  Lucas’ maintains a strong interest in aboriginal artwork, and acknowledges the influence indigenous art has had on his work.  He goes into a little more detail on this subject below!

Aside from the cultural, political and social themes in his work, what can’t be overlooked is the intricacy, beauty and sheer skill inherent in each of Lucas’ paintings.  Each piece is so incredibly layered, detailed and dense – it’s a shame to view them on such a small scale here – do check out his website for more pics!

Massive thanks to Lucas for his time and such thoughtful responses, and all the amazing pics – do check out his work at Pieces of Eight in Melbourne for one more week!

Lullaby Islands – new works by Lucas Grogan
Pieces of Eight
28 Russell Place
Melbourne 3000

Until October 1st 2011.

Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to fine art, and to working with themes of cultural isolation vs. inclusion ?

I’m from Maitland NSW, and I think it’s pretty safe to say there wasn’t a lot going on art related there. I was the kid who sneaked black felt-tip pens out of my parent’s bags to draw with. I enrolled at the University of Newcastle studying BFA Fine Art , which ended up being a bad fit, and I did very poorly.  Took me three attempts to pass first year photography and I failed second year drawing twice. Though by the end of my first year at uni I had three casual jobs in art galleries, two in Sydney and one at Newcastle Art Gallery. I missed a lot of uni during this time, however catching the two and half hour train between Newcastle and Sydney meant that I had a lot of time to draw.

I’ve always been interested in the ‘other’ and pushing the limits of what is socially acceptable. Maitland and Newcastle were pretty ‘white’ places, so as a point of difference, I was always researching different cultures and different places. I was interested by the demarcations, prejudices and collisions between competing and/or colliding cultures, and knew I wanted to create work about these problems.

My work has always been irreverent, political and laden with sexual themes and scurrilous humour.  I try to make work that combines visual elements which are not usually associated with one another, and highlight the similarities, not the differences.

I began to develop this greater metaphor of the ‘Island’ within my work. For me, an island acts as both a paradise and as a prison. I find it fascinating that maintaining a unique cultural identity often also means maintaining a distance from encroaching neighbours.

In this day and age, where information is flying around left, right and centre thanks to the ease of travel and the internet, it seems illogical to attempt to limit this interchange of cultures. But also my Island theme references the John Donne quote “no man is an island entire of itself”. At times we all as individuals seek our own space apart from others, where we can do and say as we please, but we must also participate on some level with the immediate world around us.

Lucas Grogan’s paintings from his Black & Blue exhibition last year at Iain Dawson Gallery in Sydney

Lucas Grogan’s paintings from his Black & Blue exhibition last year at Iain Dawson Gallery in Sydney

Where might we have seen your work?

I have recently completed a project, Lullaby Islands for Pieces of Eight’s window on Russell Place in the city – I’ve never made sculpture, so it was a great opportunity to push myself into another realm.

Earlier this year Movida and Citylights Projects asked me to create a huge mural on Hosier Lane. I had not made a large scale work before though it was too good of an opportunity to say no to. It took me three solid thirteen hour days to complete, it was so exhausting, and the text were sourced from text messages, Rupert Murdoch quotes and newspapers.

Lucas painting in Hosier Lane.  (Check out the timelapse video here).  “I was asked my Movida and Citylights Projects to produce a work for the exterior of their building in the city. I had an exhibition close by at Until Never where they saw my work. I made it in three long days over the Easter break. It was a really great experience, as I had not created a public work before.” – Lucas.

Apart from that, I had a solo exhibition earlier this year called Backchat at Until Never (2011), and another solo show called  ‘Islands’ last year at Seventh Gallery on Gertrude St.  I’ve been in a few group shows here and there, and had a studio residency at Blender Studios when I first arrived in Melbourne two years ago.

Also earlier this year I had a solo show called BLACK & BLUE at Iain Dawson Gallery in Sydney, and was included in a group exhibition at the Cat Street Gallery Hong Kong in August.

Hooroo to a French Girl – from Lucas’ solo show Backchat at Until Never earlier this year.  “This large digital print on silk was made after a a close friend had to leave Australia as she had exhausted her visa. She had built a wonderful life here with lots of friends and was very reluctant to leave. So I said I would paint her as a going away present, as a momento for her time here” – Lucas.

What has been a favourite recent project, artwork or exhibition?

We Covet is the major piece from The Lullaby Islands project at Pieces of Eight. It is in two shield-like pieces with a man in each cradling or clutching a series of gold ink, acrylic and enamelled patterned rings. Both men are wary of one another, unsure whether to share their islands with the other. It’s actually a very quiet piece for me, but one I’m really proud of. The concept of work comes from the phrase “we covet first what we see”.

We Covet – major piece from The Lullaby Islands project currently on show in Melbourne at Pieces of Eight.

Whilst your work often references motifs from various cultures and countries, the pieces which seems to draw most attention are those which reference traditional aboriginal artwork. What drew you to working in this style initially, and how do you feel about the controversy which sometime arises as a response to this work?

Whilst still at university I worked a couple of days a week for Annandale Galleries Sydney, and it was there I first saw the work of Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek.  I was shocked.  My knowledge of indigenous art up until this time was fairly basic.  I thought it mainly consisted of dot paintings from the central desert.  But, upon seeing Nadjamerrek’s work I immediately recognised the similarities in our style. Those early works of mine you’ve described were first exhibited at the student gallery in Newcastle and the response was polarising.  They were met with both criticism and praise. In fact, at one point I was actively warned off pursuing the aesthetic. From that exhibition alone it was remarkable how many artists made comment to me about a subject they had often thought of pursuing but were unsure how.

Eventually after being included in the safARI Sydney exhibition in 2008 the controversy escalated. I was still a student in my final year and didn’t know how to best handle the ever growing scandal that at times resulted in threats. I got kicked out of prize shows and group shows and eventually decided to re-address the issue. Upon moving to Melbourne in 2009 I switched my drawings from being black based to blue based and the criticism ceased. Whilst this was an interesting and challenging time, my practice has since moved on and continues to evolve. There were a myriad of reasons why I chose to pursue the aesthetic in the first place but my core belief has remained fairly unchanged since the beginning. To not acknowledge the influence indigenous art has on me personally, and on the Australian arts community seems like ignoring the elephant in the room. The appropriation of indigenous art and design is an ethically complex discussion. I am more than aware that within Australia this form of appropriation is historically and politically loaded, and is intrinsically tied to the destructive legacy of European settlement. And it is for these reasons, these conflicting agendas that I think it’s important to engage in the dialogue.

You’ve been out all night Babe – ink on matt board, 75 x 108cm (in 5 parts) by  Lucas Grogan, 2010

What does a typical day in the studio involve for you?

Starting early, usually on a Monday or Tuesday only.  Coffee, loud music, coffee, listening to the news and coffee. I have tried in the past to work in a studio apart from where I live, but always found it more distracting and eventually I ended up resenting the space. So I work from home, taking over the living room. I rarely do any sketches, instead I just start. I figure, why do the work twice? I’m currently creating a new needlepoint quilt, which takes much longer than usual to create, so there is fabric and thread all over the place at the moment.

Needlepoint quilt in progress!

Detail from an earlier quilt by Lucas – True Blue Babe, 2010

Which other artists or creative people do you admire?

Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, Liam Benson, Francesco Clemente (it was his self portrait with owls that really made me want to become an artist), Juan Davila, Belinda Howden, Brian Jungen, Terence Koh, John Mawurndjul, Alasdair McLuckie, Mike Parr and Louise Weaver.

What would be your dream creative project?

I’ve managed in the last year or so do some really challenging and fun projects and collaborations.  Album and record artwork commissions for Husny Thalib, and Hammocks and Honey. I was invited to create a huge mural on Hosier Lane. And next year my collaboration with Sydney based fashion label RITTENHOUSE will be released. I love to collaborate on new projects that compliment my exhibition based art practice.

Lucas’ collaboration with Sydney based fashion label RITTENHOUSE – not yet released, look out for it early next year!

What are you looking forward to ?

I’ve a solo exhibition at MOP Projects in Sydney in November called PRIVATE ISLAND, which comprises of a number of needlepoint quilts. The last is nearly finished and I’m really looking forward to it. Plus getting my hands on some of the RITTENHOUSE X LUCAS GROGAN pieces!

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I love North Melbourne. It’s quiet, spacious, and green and there is a great mix of people living here.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools / materials of your trade?

Bravo Printing, Lincraft and Spotlight for all my textile works. Eckersley’s and Senior Art Supplies for everything else. Though I do purchase most of my supplies online in bulk.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Gigi Baba Smith St Collingwood.  I love everything there – but especially the peas in olive oil and coriander (I think that’s what in them). I just like that you can tell the waiter how hungry you are and they bring you out the most delicious food. But also last weekend I made a mean roast lamb.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Saturday morning? On my way to work unfortunately.  Sunday mornings though I’ll be out on my veranda in the sun listening to Asiapop on SBS, having breakfast and drinking coffee with my boyfriend.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Murray White Room – awesome exhibition space with terrific artists.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 23rd September 2011


  • Siobhan C 5 years ago

    I remember being told in art class at High School to never imitate Indigenous art. I understand there’s spiritual significance in Indigenous artwork, but isn’t it like that with most artwork, despite its origin? I admire Lucas for breaking that ‘rule’ and giving us something to think about.

  • Jasmin 5 years ago

    You’re my idol!
    By the way, i’m sure you’re looking real pretty today, well done ox

  • Hat 5 years ago

    I’m a long time admirer of Lucas’ work. Can’t wait to see the quilts in November!

  • Lisa 5 years ago

    He’s gonna go commercial – Lucas turn back dude!
    Don’t be a new Ken Done!

  • Penelope 5 years ago

    Lucy this might be the best design files yet!! This work is beautiful – bravo Lucas!

  • Georgie 5 years ago

    I actually find Lucas’ work disturbing. I would like to know more about Lucas’ process and how he understands his work to be engaging in a dialogue. Is he actively engaging with the Australian Aboriginal community? I really hope he is and that there was simply not enough scope to cover this complex issue in such a short article. @Siobhan, appropriation of Indigenous imagery is a not a ‘rule’ it is about mutual respect.

  • Emma 5 years ago

    Hmmm, this is dangerous territory, and I think respect and engagement is a huge part of it. Having just worked with Maryann Talia Pau, a Samoan artist/designer, I had an educational experience seeing her connection to her indigenous artforms, and therefore the right to tell those stories, use those materials etc. These are living cultures, thousands of years old, and here are white fellas, again using them for their own purposes. Doesn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.

  • Simone 5 years ago

    I don’t understand the controversy. Luke is not attempting to pass of his work as ‘Aboriginal art’, nor is he telling stories that are not drawn from his own world and experiences. Artists have drawn from traditional Indigenous and tribal styles/motifs for ever. Be it Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, African etc etc.. I think he is drawing inspiration from his world and expressing it via an aesthetic he feels connected to for whatever reason. His work is super cool, and unique, but at the same time, nothing new, in terms of drawing from a style more exotic than our own local style. Is there a wave of protest from Indigenous Australian artists and communities? I would be curious to know , and then yes, he would need to re assess the use of the style.

  • Lisa 5 years ago

    There’s nothing ‘exotic’ about a culture that dates back over 50000 + years. To use this term or even deem it as a ‘style’ or ‘aesthetic’ is an insult. Lucas is illustrating the white man mentality and the modern age very well. It’s called theft and we’ve done this with Aboriginal land, culture, dignity so why not their art? In a way it’s just honest. Revolting and unapologetically honest.

  • Kim Oakes 5 years ago

    I really don’t understand what Luke is trying to convey other than a fashionable crafty way of working. Bits of Gordon Bennett and bits of Lofty just make for a poor pastiche, bad white fella art. I am sick and tired of ‘super cool’

  • Treadgold 5 years ago

    Very interesting reading and aside from everything he is an extremely lovely and talented artist. Great he works across so many mediums as well.

  • jen 5 years ago

    I am obsessed with him now! And I want that dress!!!!!

  • gluten free gift 5 years ago

    WOW – particularly fond of the lullaby island series… his work is rich!!

  • Em 5 years ago

    Wonderful interview Lucy. What an interesting fellow. Absolutely love his work, especially ‘We Covet’. It jumped off the page at me.

  • Marcela Restrepo 5 years ago

    Amazing, I love those Black & Blue paintings!! Looking forward to his november exhibition.

  • Pete 4 years ago

    Not very impressed. As the mother of two incredibly talented murri artists, Ive got to admit that I’m spoilt for good art. However, Lucas is famous for his artwork and my sons are not. I can see that he has been influenced by different cultures including the Aboriginal culture – but honestly …. It looks like a sad look alike/wannabe. I wouldn’t waste any money on it – even if it might be worth something later on!

  • AnA Wojak 4 years ago

    Pity someone so obviously talented has the need to steal from others….

    There are glimpses of originality but reworking ancient and meaningful motifs of another culture into mass produced commercial art is just shameful. The pseudo bark paintings are particularly disturbing.
    Hipster support of this as ‘super cool’ is just as crass. I am not a blind supporter of all that is politically correct (in fact have had heated discussions in the past with those who are) but this is just shallow and facile with a bit of lame theory to try and justify it.

    ‘The appropriation of indigenous art and design is an ethically complex discussion. I am more than aware that within Australia this form of appropriation is historically and politically loaded, and is intrinsically tied to the destructive legacy of European settlement. And it is for these reasons, these conflicting agendas that I think it’s important to engage in the dialogue.’

    This is not a ‘dialogue’: it’s a monologue of your own making. You have just linked yourself intrinsically to the destructive legacy of European settlement you claim to be talking about.

    Use your own imagination Lucas… I’d like to think you have one. You could actually be a good artist.

  • Hila 4 years ago

    I would respectfully suggest people go read this article by Texta Queen about Grogan’s cultural appropriation and the reasons why she has left her Melbourne representation, Gallerysmith, when she found out the gallery had begun representing Lucas Grogan:

    I’m sorry, but I’m over this cultural appropriation business. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and we should be living in an age (and in a country) that is doing better at addressing the legacies of the past and the pressing inequalities of the present. You don’t get to play around with a historically marginalised people’s culture for the sake of creating ‘edgy’ art. This isn’t a ‘dialogue’ to me. It would be nice if all this creative energy and talent was put into ethical art instead.

  • JackieJetson 4 years ago

    I once asked an Aboriginal artist why they don’t like non-Aboriginal artists copying their style. This was around ten years ago and I was more naive than I am now. She said that their unique art has cultural and spiritual significance to them. It is the one thing that they are recognised and are able to make a living from. For a non Indigenous person to be so superficial to rip off their aesthetic, that has been done for thousands of years, is very offensive. Artists that stoop to copying and exploitation of disadvantage people like this need to show some compassion and respect.

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