Ben Quilty is one of Australia’s greatest artists and from all accounts, one of the nicest people you could meet. I mention the latter because so many artists are known to be a little difficult to get along with - some of the time! The Hero is a photo of Ben Quilty (Getty Images), lounging in his Alexandria studio, in front of a self portrait.
Ben Quilty gained considerable respect when he supported a young Australian, Myuran Sukumaran, on death row in an Indonesian goal for drug smuggling. Myuran Sukumaran had decided to use Art to better himself behind bars while awaiting his execution. An exhibition Myuran Sukumaran:Another Day in Paradise is showing at The Bendigo Art Gallery until 16 September, 2018. (Organised by Campbelltown Arts Centre.Curated by Ben Quilty and Michael Dagostino.) This is a photo of Ben with some of Sukumaran's paintings.
Ben is no stranger to working in an emotionally and physically tough environment. In 2011 he was in Afghanistan as Australia’s Official War Artist for the Australian War Memorial. We will be studying some of these paintings in a moment.
(Source: Fairfax Syndication)
Ben Quilty has also worked with Richard Flanagan documenting the exodus of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Greece and Serbia. This image is from Ben Quilty's Facebook page titled: Trip to Lesbos with Richard Flanagan and World Vision.
When I see this photo and for many of Quilty’s paintings I need to borrow an expression from an article I have recently read on the English war artist Paul Nash, published by the Tate Gallery (London) and that is: The Landscape of Mortality.
As Australia's war artist, Quilty was charged with recording and interpreting the experiences of Australians deployed as part of Operation Slipper in Kabul, Kandahar, and Tarin Kot in Afghanistan and at Al Minhad Airbase in the United Arab Emirates. He created large-scale portraits that focus on the intense physicality of these soldiers and on the emotional and psychological consequences of their service. (Ref: https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/quilty) This powerful painting is of Captain Kate Porter, After Afghanistan.
(Source: Australian War Memorial) Captain S, After Afghanistan. (Source: Australian War Memorial)
Ben Quilty's style is termed painterly or impasto; it is bold and expressive: it breathes! The texture of the medium (oil in these examples) and the powerful brush strokes assist in conveying the emotion so palpable in the expressions and poses of the figures as seen in this image of Troy Park, After Afghanistan.
(Source: Australian War Memorial)
If we think back to the blogs on Colour you will note in this images the use of Analogous Colours particularly the tones of oranges and reds with a touch of the blue, purple tones. These have been contrasted with the starkness of the whites bringing emphasis to the highlighted parts of the bodies. One of Quilty's most powerful images is this one of Trooper M, After Afghanistan.
(Source: ABC) And the utter destruction of all wars is exemplified in Tarin Kot, Hilux.
I quote from an interview with Ben Quilty to gain a little insight into how this experience affected him. It was not so much his time in Afghanistan that left an impression, but the experience of working with the soldiers who sat for him after returning from Afghanistan, trying to live normal lives at home, “to then watch them try to struggle to come back and fit in, and drop, fall, crashing down to the earth with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very crushing and confronting.”(theconservation.com)
There can be no doubt that Ben Quilty is set on a mission to challenge our thoughts, our feelings about confronting issues such as mortality. He also portrays his interpretation of the Australian National Identity, Australian Masculinity, European Settlement and the Treatment of the Aboriginal Peoples. Tomorrow we are going to see some of his works that are part of his Rorschach series. Yes, Ink Blots, for those of you familiar with this psychological testing technique.