Lucas Grogan’s Black + Blue paintings have been billed as “dangerous”. Don’t believe the hype. Initially they do seem provocative. At first glance, Grogan seems to have appropriated painting styles usually reserved for Indigenous artists in Arnhem Land. But on closer inspection, his blue and white ovals have as much in common with Willow Pattern plates as bark paintings.
Grogan’s paintings are actually a visual hybrid, a melange of imagery just like the famous blue and white china. The now ubiquitous 18th century dinnerware pattern is an intermingling of East and West. It was an English take on Chinese decorative arts, mass produced and marketed to a burgeoning consumer class who couldn’t afford the real thing. And like the Willow Pattern, Grogan’s heavily decorated, highly marketable, blue and white paintings borrow from multiple cultures. Traces of imagery lifted from Persian carpets, Islamic tiles and European tapestries all jostle for position with his cross-hatched marks.
Still aiming for dangerous and provocative, the gallery website claims that, “A white Australian man exposing the seedy underbelly of what has become of the fragile indigenous population of this country is bound to ruffle some feathers.” But, aside from the fact that Grogan’s works, at least superficially, resemble pseudo bark paintings, I’m not sure why we are supposed to think that he is depicting Aboriginal culture. It seems to me that Grogan’s monochromatic paintings explore the age old tradition of drinking yourself stupid and getting up to mischief: an almost universal example of secret men’s business.
In Grogan’s narrative paintings, silhouetted black figures spew their guts out and get their gear off across three series of panels. But these antics, if not exactly universal, certainly span many cultures. Grogan’s wild-men could be Japanese businessmen on a bender, Aussie footballers destined for tabloid headlines or American frat boys just getting warmed up. In fact, with the strong homoerotic imagery in many of the panels, especially the series, You’ve Been Out All Night Babe, Grogan’s work seems more Oxford Street than outback.