Lucas Grogan is very excited. At the end of this month, the iconic Australian mural and textile artist opens a retrospective at Maitland Regional Art Gallery, the hometown he left nearly 20 years ago. With pieces loaned back from permanent collections at the National Gallery of Australia and Newcastle Art Gallery and and new site-specific commissions, Long Story Short contains select artworks from the last decade of his career.
We chatted with Lucas about life as the prodigal son, how his practice has changed and what it means to return home with his art.
This is the first time you’ve exhibited work in your home town! Why is showing at a regional gallery important to you?
I left Maitland in 2003 and – despite exhibiting all over the world – this will officially be the first time I’ve exhibited in my hometown. Most of my family still live here, so while they know that I’m an artist they’ve rarely had the opportunity to physically see what the hell I’ve been up to. This show brings together a sort of my best work from the last ten years. To show it to the town where I grew up is really exciting and a massive privilege. I hope the audience thinks it’s a Local-Boy-Comes-Good story. Seeing the 30+ works in the exhibition all together I’m a bit emotional as sometimes when you’re alone in the studio you think to yourself, ‘Am I wasting my life or actually doing something with it?’.
Compared to other shows you’ve done in the past, what’s different about this one?
This exhibition showcases the three sides of my practice: painting/drawing, textiles and murals. All the artworks in this exhibition have been borrowed back from private collections and public institutions like the National Gallery of Australia, Newcastle Art Gallery and Ararat Gallery. I’ve created three different murals for the exhibition that will dominate the atrium, but yes, these will be painted over at the end. But I’m so thrilled Maitland gave me the opportunity to pick the very best of my work and showcase it all together. Not to mention producing Vanity Book that will accompany the exhibition, featuring text with Luke Thurgate.
You’ve had such a long career, how has your practice changed over the years?
If anything, it’s become more complex and intricate. Where I use to leave a centimetre between lines I now leave a millimetre. My text has become less reckless and is now more pointed and focused. So its matured and I hope it continues to be so.
Do you have any key inspirations or references you constantly return to? What subjects interest you the most?
The first image I remember seeing where I thought, ‘OMG, I’m going to be an artist’ was Francesco Clemente’s self portraits. They were naive, elegant and confronting all at the same time. I make work about my life and the state of the world. I’m never trying to teach people a lesson, rather I just want to exhibit what I think and what I did.
As far as public art goes, your work is pretty political. How would you describe the intentions of your art?
I guess I don’t think of my work as particularly political, more emotional. I try to be as honest as possible and expose my inner thoughts, much like writing in a diary. I hope people look or read the work and think, ‘Oh, it’s not just me’ or that it offers them a sense of reprieve from an otherwise awful world.
What motivates you to keep creating? Really, what do you love about what you do?
Being on the rat-wheel of a full time studio practice, time is always running out. I have a billion ideas and not enough time in the day to make them. I collect information and inspiration nonstop and distill it. Making art is really an addiction, sometimes a detrimental one and most often a rewarding one.
Long Story Short will be exhibited at Maitland Regional Art Gallery from February 29th to May 17th.