CONFRONTING, bold and often aggressive, artworks by Matto Lucas are difficult to ignore.
The Melbourne-based artist has made a name for himself with his striking photography depicting bodies digitally manipulated, defaced and reconstructed.
So much so that over the past few years Lucas has become a staple of Melbourne’s queer art scene. He was featured in last year’s Midsumma, and most recently he was honoured with a life membership at the Midsumma 2014 launch due to his ongoing work and behind-the-scenes support in the festival’s visual arts program.
Although Lucas rejected the “queer artist” label, he told the Star Observer it wouldn’t make sense to deny that being a gay man informed his work.
“I am a gay man, so obviously that’s a place of honesty, but it’s not all that encompasses my work at all,” he said.
“I think aspects of it always talk about the issues and the problems that gay men have to go through or are going through, but that’s not what I’m primarily looking at.” After presenting a recent talk to
students at his former university the Academy of Design Australia, Lucas was surprised to find himself saddled with an entourage of young gay artists. While he said it was surreal to be a role model for them, he understood how difficult it could be to grow up gay and his work explored similar themes.
“Creating art is a way for me to belong to myself and it’s a way for me to know that I’m here and I’m okay and I exist. And that space can either be physical gallery space … or it’s conceptual space, psychological space, so it’s like owning something,” he said.
“That also can be seen as about growing up gay—I grew up in the country. I didn’t even know what the word gay was. To exist in that world you don’t own any space because there’s no community of people that’s the same, or if there is they’re hidden.”
Midsumma Visual Arts Convener Rat Simpson said Lucas’ work made him an obvious choice for premier artist at last year’s festival and to receive the lifetime membership award this year.
“I love his work personally because it’s bold and daring,” Simpson said.
“It makes you stop, it makes you look at it, it makes you think, it makes you think of a response. I think it speaks to many different people in many different ways.”
In this year’s Midsumma, Lucas is presenting a new performance installation called The Editor. He will perform the piece at the Shifting Ground exhibition launch, and a video of the performance will be shown for the remainder of the exhibition.
The Editor will see Lucas photographing his own body and then digitally manipulating and corrupting the image projected onto his body.
“The whole thing is a painful meditation on self-harm, to put yourself through this physical cut,” he said.
“Looking at the notion of body image, and how obsessed we are not just in mainstream media, but specifically as gay men—it’s just out of control.
“Because of apps, Grindr, meat market garbage, everyone is just reduced to pixels of flesh, a digestible, orderable menu of flesh.
“It’s really important to show the physical human form and the actual corruption that happens to it.”
Lucas has long drawn inspiration from performance artists concerned with control of self and the body. He cited gay, HIV-positive Italian artist Franko B, best known for his work I Miss You, in which the artist, painted white, bleeds from opened veins onto a white catwalk.
“I love that work so much, just incredible. He’s a queer, HIV-positive artist as well, so the blood is so important,” Lucas said.
The Editor is a part of Midsumma visual arts exhibition Shifting Ground and launches January 24 at 6pm at Dark Horse Experiment, 110 Franklin St, Melbourne. Visit www.midsumma.org.au for more information.