If you were a hungry artist in Sydney from the 1980s until early this year, it was highly likely you would have strolled from your garret, leaving your easel and paints behind, or whatever medium you worked in, and headed to what could be described as the de facto tuckshop for Australia’s disciples of contemporary art.
Propped on a backstreet Paddington corner, and with an exterior glowing yellow representing the summer sun of the host’s Italian village birthplace, Lucio’s would quickly become the go-to lunching location for Sydney’s art world, after opening its doors in 1983.
In the location’s previous restauranting life, it had also operated as a gallery, and when Lucio Galleto took over the lease, he not only took on its artistic ethos, but supercharged it.
“I grew up in a family restaurant in Italy, where we had an art gallery, so it has always been in my blood,” Lucio said.
“The combination of great food, great service, and great art on the walls is, in my view, one of the best dining experiences you can imagine.
“Food and art, for me, is like the air that I breathe.”
The world of Australian art would respond to Lucio’s vision, and over the next four decades, they would contribute works to the restaurant’s walls on mediums as varied as plate, table docket and serviette, along with canvas.
But with Lucio closing his doors in January, that collection is now up for auction this weekend.
“They are snapshots of these artists, who were regular attendees and diners and guests of Lucio’s,” says auction house Bonhams director, Merryn Schriever, “It’s a very unique kind of crucible that Lucio built.”
“I’m surprised that I had so many pieces in my restaurant,” says Lucio, “I don’t know how I fit them all in.”
Greeting diners would be a 75kg mosaic, featuring Lucio’s hometown of Ameglia.
“It’s a piece that everyone associates with arriving at Lucio’s, right there by the front door, a beautiful Gary Shear mosaic,” Merryn said.
Dominating the internal scenescape amongst the jam of original pieces was Tim Storrier’s three-and-a-half metre long piece titled Burning Rope.
“Lucio busts him one day, chipping part of the wall paint off, taking quite a bit of render with him, which he then takes back to his studio and incorporates into this picture.”
If an artist was down a few bucks on the bill, a painted plate would suffice, or in the case of John Olsen, a big empty bottle of Bollie.
“No one could remember why,” says Merryn. “Because it was a Nebuchadnezzar of Bollie?”
I venture. “It was a very, very good party,” confirms Merryn.
With art up close, the odd work would occasionally wear a juicy splatter of entrée, such as Charles Blackman’s The Table, or the spray of pesto on a Ken Johnson landscape.
“So these flecks on the frame and on the lower part of the piece itself are edible?” I enquire.
“They are indeed, and I think that just goes to show the kind of raucous, good fun that always happened at Lucio’s,” says Merryn.
The collection, titled Food, Art and Friendship, goes under the hammer this weekend through auction house Bonhams.
“I don’t think I’ve put together an auction catalogue with so many paintings of fish in my life,” says Merryn.