Exhibition review: Tales from the Greek

An imaginative response to classic Greek tragedies.

Down an old staircase off Flinders Lane in Melbourne’s CBD you’ll find a hidden underworld; the old floorboards may creak on entering with ghosts of the past, while bones and skeletons from ancient heroes and warriors hang from the walls and fill the spaces. But the place you enter is far from Hades. Two whitewashed rooms flow one to the other filled with natural and gallery lighting. The worn patina of the wooden boards and intimacy of the spaces at fortyfivedownstairs, an exhibition and performance space, is welcoming to the visitor who comes to see Tales from the Greek: Myth, Beauty and Brutality, the current exhibition by artist Marco Luccio.

The title of the show, taken from the book of the same name, a collaboration between Luccio and the author John Hughes, is also part of the exhibition. One of Luccio’s most extensive exhibitions in over 30 years of his art practice, the exhibition features works across a range of mediums including drypoints, etchings, mixed media works, monotypes, painting and sculptural pieces repurposed from found materials. The collaboration with Hughes explores eight narrative interpretations of Greek myths and tragedies, some set in ancient Greece while others delve into the themes of love, trust, power, war, revenge and ambition in a more contemporary context. This latest book follows Luccio and Hughes’ successful 2013 collaboration, The Garden of Sorrows.

Lining the walls, Luccio’s trademark, energetic, raw works are stripped of sentimentality but not emotion; the experience is visceral, as though the outer layers of the characters he depicts have been removed and their inner workings, their psyche, is on show for all to see.

Hanging the works in pairs or groups, salon style, is a successful curatorial decision despite the intensity of the pieces, as it heightens the dramatic element of the show, while sculptural works on plinths or in glass cabinets provide visual interest and contrast.

Assemblage Untitled 5, metal on metal base, 2021, is one of numerous interpretations of the Sisyphus myth in the exhibition. King of Corinth, Sisyphus was punished by Zeus, ruler of the Gods, for trickery and cheating death; for eternity he would push a boulder uphill only to have it roll back down once reaching the top and the cycle repeated. This sculptural work captures the essence of the tale through its beauty and simplicity of form.

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In contrast, Portrait of Sisyphus, collagraph on paper, 2021, is a darker, more distressing piece, exploring perhaps the inner torment of the man caught in this loop for eternity. A drypoint on paper, 2021, Sisyphus in 9 Parts, on the other hand is almost comical in its depiction of the man as he explores the many ways to get the boulder up the hill only to lose it again, Luccio’s expressive, harsh linework mimicking the harshness of the task.

The Trojan Horse, created by the Greeks to secretly enter the city of Troy and ultimately win the Trojan War, is also explored through various mediums in the exhibition. Luccio’s vigorous, sketch-like style in Trojan Horse Hideaways, drypoint on paper, 2021, depicts the victors hiding inside the belly of the horse while Six Horses, acrylic and ink on cotton, 2021, could be something from an excavation site with part of the fabric missing, this iconic image of the horse decorative and depicted in a semi abstract manner. The Wire Horse, metal on metal base, 2021, utilises a variety of metal tubing and strips creating a lovely gestural, less literal interpretation of a horse in flight.

Sensitive curatorial decisions ensure that floating quotes by John Hughes about Luccio’s work appear on walls and plinths around the gallery, while a glass topped bench cabinet provides interpretive material such as sketches, photographs and models to support and contextualize the work; this sits awkwardly however with the inclusion of merchandise and book stacks of Tales from the Greek in the body of the exhibition. Greater consideration to the positioning of this element of the show would have strengthened the visual experience of the work on display.

Marco Luccio is represented in national and international collections while John Hughes is the author of seven books. Both have been awarded or shortlisted for major prizes and commissions.

Tales from the Greek: Myth, Beauty and Brutality
By Marco Luccio
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
People in wheelchairs will have difficulty accessing this gallery space.

Myth & Mayhem: artist and author panel discussion: 20 November 11:30am-1:00pm
Making the Greek Tales: artist talk: 27 November 11:30-1:00
COVID density limits apply so registrations required for talks

Tales from the Greek will be on show from 9 November – 4 December 2021

Mem Capp is a Melbourne artist and writer.