Shaye Gregan (or @ShayeTek on Instagram) believes he was born to become an artist – he even describes his birth as a form of artistry. The story goes like this: his father found a steele baker’s bowl in an abandoned factory, cleaned it up, painted it and his mother lay inside, surrounded by water, when she gave birth to baby Shay in their living room.
“When people ask me ‘when did you get into art?’ I tell them this story, because it explains everything for me,” says the 27-year-old artist.
Gregan was born and raised in St Kilda, a suburb in Melbourne – known for its counterculture boom since the 1960s – that houses bohemians, artists, musicians, punks and LGBTQ+ groups alike. Inspired by his experiences growing up there as a Black man, Gregan’s expressive paintings demonstrate the connection he holds to his culture, focussing on Black life, and the narratives “both beautiful and difficult” he’s experienced first hand.
Working with acrylic paint to create enlarged features and expressive faces, Gregan recently explored the ongoing frustration Black people face when having their hair touched without consent in the 10-piece series, Don’t touch mf. With a focus on dismantling anti-Black beauty standards, the pieces feature an eerily ghost-like hand grabbing onto the heads of Black women.
“We are not your pet. Whether you generally love the hair or just find it *so funny*, you don’t reach out and grab it!,” he said in the accompanying Instagram caption.
In contrast, Artists at work depicts a celebratory scene – two Black women smiling while braiding the hair of another, with a mug etched with “BLM” sitting in the corner of the painting. Meanwhile, Marlboro Reds for the Devil is a surrealist take on corporations – a blood red Satan stares directly at the viewer, with S <3 G tattooed on his arm, presumably a nod to self-love.
Gregan cites a long list of direct influences, all surrounding Black culture: “The music, the flyness, our hair, the clothes, the food, our skin, our sculptures, the love, the anger, the pain, the strength and the ability to keep going, no matter what.”
Inspired mostly by artists like Faith Ringgold, Mary T Smith, Gregory Warmack, Dr Charles Smith, Philip Guston (“and both my parents”), Gregan strongly believes that art helps us to express our feelings, because not everyone can verbalise what they feel.
“Your hands can speak for you by creating something that others can relate to,” he says. “Art can tell stories that inspire others to make change.”
Recently, Gregan has set up an online shop selling T‑shirts, hoodies and mugs printed with his illustration: a Black man stood over a KKK member on all fours with “fuck white supremacy” boldly written across the top. The important message put forward by Gregan: “fuck white supremacy, because it has no place on this earth.”
Rather, Gregan would like to see more empathy in the world, urging people to be more in touch with their feelings and to treat others the way you want to be treated. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
So what are Gregan’s plans for the rest of the year?
“I need to leave the city and get out more,” he says. “There’s no doubt about it, I’m a city kid, but I grew up camping and trekking with my dad – I miss it all so much!”