Over the past six weeks, Luke Thurgate reckons he has spent hundreds of hours meticulously drawing with charcoal directly onto a wall, to create five massive artworks which will be washed away in a matter of hours when his exhibition closes.

“There’s this impulse to hold on to a thing,” he says. “For a lot of people, it is a way of reflecting on all sorts of ideas; of passing, of loss, of grief.”

Completed over six weeks onsite in the National Art School drawing gallery, the Sydneysider’s exhibition, ‘Adore You’, borrows the five-frame structure and grand impressions of the 1432 Ghent Altarpiece (below), blending canonical European religious art with Thurgate’s representation of “otherness” in the modern world. 

“It’s that reference to the Ghent Altarpiece,” he says. “It’s a very large scale, figurative drawing. There’s a kind of classicism, a reference to the Western canon, and a fairly Eurocentric framework to the things that I’m referencing.”

“But I think the fact that it’s charcoal on a wall, it’s literally just dust on a wall, is something that people find resonant in all sorts of different ways.”

It’s the amplification… of signification that happens when all the things that are seen as too other, too unnatural, too scary… are mashed together in these constructed notions of what a society is scared of.

Thurgate wishes for Adore You to become “a place where folks can reflect on their own experiences”. Watching the audience move slowly through the space, there is a noticeable cathedral-like stillness to the gallery – another nod to the altar – which allows for a breaking down of traditional notions of fear and worship for a modern audience.

Thurgate said as people approach the entry, they stop their conversations before crossing the threshold into the room. It is a space for reflection, wonder, and questions, made more special by the fact of its impermanence. 

Inspired by the study of what fictional monsters reflect about our culture, and how queerness is represented, Adore You examines how society’s fears can be manifested into the ‘other’, as our fears of unfamiliar ideas allow them to transform into monster-like entities.

“It’s the amplification and the heightening of signification that happens when all the things that are seen as too other, too unnatural, too feminine, too seductive, too scary, are mashed together in these constructed notions of what a society is scared of,” he says.


The Ghent Altar in St Bavo’s Cathedral in Belgium. Supplied.

Thurgate recounted a visitor to the gallery messaged him after seeing the work, saying that the image of the masked face was appearing in their nightmares.

However, whilst there is this notion of horror present in the work, it also elicits a pathos in the vulnerability of depicting such large, naked figures. Thurgate’s work is bound by this balancing act between fear and intimacy; what he describes as being “on the knife edge of the familiar and abject”.

“I’m kind of doing what the monster does. The monster is this mash-up of signifiers that come together and then disperse,” he says. “It’s this thing that has a shifting capacity. It’s got a kind of hybridity, and it sits along thresholds.”

This creates a unique platform for discussion, as the work has both an openness and a weight to it, which Thurgate identifies as its most valuable aspect. Whilst onsite working on the drawing, Thurgate has the chance to interact with his audience and hold discussions which he said have become the thing he now talks about in relation to the work.

He also emphasised the importance of this work not being defined just by its inclusion in Sydney World Pride, but as something fluid enough to be impactful on a wider audience.

“I’d hate to think that its signifiers were so kind of narrow or close that it only had the capacity to appeal to a certain set of people. Some of the richest conversations I’ve had have been with people not necessarily like me. And I think that’s actually been a really lovely part of the experience,” he says.

Adore You runs until March 18 at the National Art School Drawing Gallery in Forbes Street, Darlinghurst.

Main image by Lilas-Mae Njoo.