Tales from the Greek
Myth, Beauty and Brutality.
A new book by John Hughes and Marco Luccio.
1st edition is limited to just 500 copies, numbered and individually signed.
Designed and printed in Australia.
400+ pages printed on 145gsm paper with hard-cover and dust jacket that features over 200 artworks.
Hughes incorporates versions of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, a classic triangle of trust and deceit, and Antigone, which reverses time’s arrow so that the protagonist’s life unfolds like a film running in reverse to explore the paradoxical implications of living in a family that has been cursed, as well as Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Euripides’ Hecuba, and evocative new renderings of Daedalus and Icarus, Sisyphus, and Achilles.
In response to the stories, Luccio’s series of artworks are both dramatic and gritty. Using a variety of mediums, he has been able to produce a collection of works that help bring the text to life in a rich and distinguished way. The stories require no prior knowledge of the myths on which they are based, but will appeal to readers who know and enjoy Greek myth and take pleasure in seeing how these timeless stories can be recast and reshaped into creative new forms.
With Tales from the Greek, Luccio’s artworks are instantly confronting, causing prompt reaction and attention from the spectator. When drypoint has been the chosen medium, Luccio’s signature style has shaped his visual interpretation into sensational yet striking artworks. Further, when Luccio has employed charcoal within the artworks, they are bursting with classical and sculptural chiaroscuro allowing him to capture Hughes’ dramatic emotive content. Beyond the tense beauty of Luccio’s artworks, the thoughtful spectator will be generously rewarded by their association to the ancient Greek myths explored by Hughes.
Hughes says, “Luccio has reached deep inside himself and found there the spirit of ancient Greece, its blood and brutality, its tragedy and pathos, its clarity and excess, its beauty and its terror. The images are at once intimate and monumental, wild and restrained, stark and teeming with life. It’s as if he’s found a visual equivalent of a riddle, a stylistic method that not only represents but also embodies the paradoxical complexities inherent in these foundational stories.”
Luccio says, “When I read the stories the first time, I knew this was going to be a monumental project. I had worked with John last on The Garden of Sorrows, which has had great critical acclaim. John’s words inspired so many ideas along the themes of love, power, war, hate, revenge, sadness and ambition, together with many other emotions and traits. I love challenging myself to create new work and am constantly seeking ways to expand my artistic ability and creative scope. My hope for these works is that they not only resonate in a traditional way, but also are seen as fresh and contemporary interpretations of Greek mythical imagery.”
Visitors will be rewarded with an artist whose latest offering expands on an ever-growing body of work that is unique, exciting and always surprising. Those who know Luccio’s work will be familiar with the gritty and expressive visceral mark-making on display, which Luccio delivers in Trojan Horse sized chunks in Tales from the Greek. However, this exhibition also provides the audience with a sensitive and beautiful melancholic array of imagery sure to move and inspire us all to reflect upon our existence and motivations. Like the stories themselves, Luccio’s work is rich in content and grand in scale.
Hughes and Luccio met while Luccio was an artist in residence at Sydney Grammar in 2010. Hughes, the Head Librarian, invited Luccio to collaborate on The Garden of Sorrows after seeing his artwork. Consequently, they have collaborated again to produce the breathtaking Tales from the Greek.
Marco Luccio is an award- winning artist whose work is represented in over 40 major public collections both nationally and internationally, including the New York Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York, The Skyscraper Museum and the National Gallery of Australia. His exhibition history includes 50 major solo exhibitions, and 170 group, curated and award shows. He has also received many commissions. Luccio has also been shortlisted for many major awards, including twice for the Dobell prize, Australia’s most prestigious drawing prize, and in 2013 for the Adelaide Perry Prize for drawing. A feature documentary about Marco Luccio is currently in production.
John Hughes is the author of seven books. His first book, The Idea of Home, won the 2005 NSW Premier’s Award for Non-Fiction, the 2006 National Biography Award, and was the National Year of Reading ‘Our Story’ winner for NSW in 2012. His second book, Someone Else: Fictional Essays, won the Adelaide 2008 Festival Award for Innovation and the 2008 Queensland Premier’s Award for Short Stories. His third book, The Remnants, was published in 2012 by UWAP, who also published The Garden of Sorrows in 2013, Asylum in 2016, and No One in 2019, which was shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award. His latest novel, The Dogs, was published by Upswell in September.
Opening night video
Enjoy this selection of pages from the book.
Artist's statement about the creation of this book.
Tales from the Greek has been an odyssey in its creation.
When I read the stories the first time, I knew this was going to be a monumental project. I had worked with John last on The Garden of Sorrows, which has had great critical acclaim. John’s words inspired so many ideas along the themes of love, power, war, hate, revenge and ambition, together with a multitude of emotions. I love challenging myself to create new work and am constantly seeking ways to expand my artistic ability and creative scope. My hope for these works is that they not only resonate in a traditional way, but also are seen as fresh and contemporary interpretations of Greek mythical imagery. To respond to words with such depth and layering was challenging and inspiring. John’s sentences seem to be so beautifully crafted and thought-out, that each paragraph gave birth to countless possibilities.
I started way back in 2016, by reading the text and making small notes next to each story in the form of one or two words plus a thumbnail sketch. Each story required a great time in between to absorb, so it was a time-consuming process. After the thumbnails next to the text, I would do a storyboard in my sketchbook with captions. This gave me a good sense of the drama and flow of the images, and helped make sure they were in order.
From there I then hired both male and female models to pose in the scenes required, from which I would then work up big charcoal drawings. After the charcoal drawings there came paintings, monotypes and drypoints, and later ink drawings and collagraphs, as well as an array of assemblages too.
Some of the works are massive, others small, intimate portraits. Each medium allowed its own kind of effect and offered moods that are unique. The charcoals allowed for incredible chiaroscuro, giving the images depth and dramatic light and dark. Perfect for some of the scenes where richness in mood and feeling were desired and conveyed in John’s rich text. The drypoints give the images gritty and powerful lines. They create an effect resonating energy and a visceral quality that is particular to the medium. The paintings allowed me to create a grander statement. The massive waterscape inspired by Icarus, for example, gave me the opportunity to paint water in an abstracted and physical manner using slates of wood to move the paint across the canvas. The images of the Trojan Horse seemed to demand a large scale, so those were painted on 6ft canvasses.
One of my favourite stories to draw from was Sisyphus. What an amazing story, and John’s take on it is so beautiful, sad and at the same time filled with a philosophical complexity that is inspiring. Maybe during Covid times this story resonates the most as we all feel like we’re pushing our metaphorical rocks up and down the same hill. In fact, I have deliberately omitted the rock that Sisyphus is pushing so that we all may place our own metaphorical obstacle in the space.
I loved working on Achilles; the great battle scenes were thrilling to depict. It was such pleasure to draw the heroes Achilles, Hector and Paris holding shields and wielding spears. And, of course, to draw the Trojan Horse that the soldiers hid in to surprise their hosts.
All the stories lend themselves so well to energetic mark making. I have chosen the splash of colour on a number of pages to evoke the colour of the old Greek vases, but also to give a sense of ancient memory. A kind of earthy colour that feels old world whilst remaining complementary to the black and white images that are the main style in the book and in the exhibition itself.
I chose the cover image because the horse to me represents civilisation. A horse can be very architectural. Without horses, cities couldn’t be built in ancient civilisations. And of course, most of all, the Trojan Horse. The horse on the cover appears out of what could be seen as smoke after a fire…perhaps after the battle.
Some of the stories are so breathtakingly beautiful the images poured out and the only question was how to limit myself and decide which were vital to the story. ‘Corruption’ was the first story. The hero trapped on an island with only his falcon companion, which represented freedom and his rotting foot. This is where the idea came to me of looking at iconic religious painting where the head is tilted. I wanted these images to have the meaningful and layered appearance of a religious icon. Hence you will see in many of the stories the heads of the characters lean to one side in an exaggerated style, which is highly visible in the woman and child in ‘Lady Macbeth of Tamarama Bay’, as well as other stories in the book.
I looked at artists such as Picasso and Rouault, as well as years of studying what makes an image memorable and powerful. In addition, I poured over my books on Ancient Greek myth, as well as sketching the Greek and Roman artefacts in the New York Metropolitan Museum. I feel that this body of work is a combination of everything I have learnt in over thirty years of making art, and that I needed that experience to be able to do justice to such powerful words.
The myth of Icarus and the story of the Minotaur was one story I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. How wonderful to depict this story so well-known yet told in a such a new and beautiful way. As an artist I salivated at the idea of drawing the wings of Icarus falling from the sky. To get my teeth into sketching how to make him fall dramatically, I hired a model to pose upside down, leaning against a wall to appear to be falling. And later, with the model posed to appear squashed and broken. I used feathers I have collected over the years as inspiration, along with looking at dead birds and classical renderings by Michelangelo and others of falling men. Also, the prospect of creating my own version of the Minotaur after years of looking at Picasso was at once daunting and inspiring. I made many different versions and I’m proud of the one I have come up with. I hope that it has its own style born from me and the words of John. (Oh, and the wooden cow in this story was a gift to me from the writer. I loved making her using drypoint to depict the hard nails hammered into slates of wood to create a visual effect filled with deep scratched marks whilst remaining somehow light in quality. The cow almost seems like the posters you might find in an old butcher shop showing the prime cutlets on the beast. With this story I went away for a couple of days to Daylesford and spent countless hours making the sketches in my hotel room. By the end of it, the room was filled with drawings covering the bed and the floor, and I went back home ready to turn those sketches into drypoints for the book.)
Throughout the image making I would look for potential characters to use in the book. I also used some of the images I had made previous to the book coming into existence. I would draw the same poses over and over. For instance, in ‘Corruption’ one of the characters listens whilst hiding. I photographed a friend posing with his hand near his ear. I kept refining it, drawing it in ink, charcoal and then finally with drypoint, until it looked just right, with a balance of light and dark, whilst keeping a stark and graphic quality which I think works well with John’s writing. I found myself being innovative too, exploring new methods I had not used before such as collagraphs. This is visible in the image of cracks in a wall in ‘Knots’, where I used an old book cover that I painted glue over and then scratched and ripped away to create the appearance of cracks. They are really cracks in a way, just like the leaves in the Icarus story are real leaves I pasted onto cardboard and printed over. Something about the materials being the real thing they are depicting is very appealing and new for me.
Images such as Electra cutting her hair on the grave in ‘Knots’ needed great thought and many reworkings to get exactly right. The words pushed me to create imagery that I would otherwise never make. Sometimes the characters in the stories turn wild, hissing like cats or howling like wolves. Oh, what fun and joy it was creating those, pushing my model, who wore various wigs and outfits, to crawl around the floor and rise like a madwoman, hissing and howling in the studio. I would often try to feel what the characters are feeling, so the stories needed me to stay away for a while to fully absorb the nature of each character and what the images should convey.
Showing time going backwards in ‘Riddle’ was an incredible challenge. I loved making the clocks seem warped and mangled, and drawing the woman walking like a ghost. Men and women falling on swords was another beautiful challenge. Once again, my model posed, faking her death over and over in various configurations to help me depict the scene realistically and dramatically.
The challenge was to be creative whilst imagining everything to be true. I was glad to draw a dragon. That was a terrific experience, as who wouldn’t want to draw a dragon? So much fun, and the creature lends itself well to the medium of drypoint with its scales and claws.
I myself posed for some of the images as reference too, such as in ‘Lady Macbeth of Tamarama Bay’, where the couple are mourning at the grave. The fortune teller too was a great one to draw. I had my model wear a crazy wig and black long-sleeved top, and I drew countless versions to get to the one I selected that best showed the mood and character required from the text.
Marionettes and puppets appear a few times in the book. I loved looking at classical ceramic versions, as well as my own wooden art version as inspiration. The stories also mention vultures and wolves devouring bodies. This was again something I would not normally draw, so it allowed me to push myself further in the scope of my image making. I must say I also found it exciting, rewarding, and just plain fun to draw some bloodthirsty and dramatic scenes.
In addition to all the images for the book, the words have inspired many assemblages of men riding horses and metal Spartans made from found metal discards from my local railway line. The idea of old welded found metal artefacts lends itself well to the stories and again gave birth to new image-making approaches for me
This exhibition and book have been years in the making. It seems as if John’s stories and my ideas have lived in my mind for an age. I feel like Zeus giving birth to Athena: the images have now sprung to life from the fertile world of John’s words into my world of image making. I think that Tales from the Greek is something of a Magnus Opus for me personally. I hope readers find inspiration to delve further into the richness of Greek mythology.