Ben Quilty's Rorschach Works

The Rorschach test is commonly known as the Ink Blot test- a psychological test used to assess a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning. I’m sure we have all had a go at making our own ink blots. Ben Quilty has turned Ink Blots into an art form using the correct nomenclature Rorschach after the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach who created the test. His most famous Rorschach image is a self portrait titled Smashed Rorschach created in 2009.


This portrait epitomises what much of Quilty’s works have been about: the destructive nature of youth masculinity. ( Note his use of quick brush strokes creating dashes and smudges of paint. From my reading I believe he uses a cake-icing knife to apply the paint! Note the mirroring effect on the twin canvas - hence the Rorschach Art Technique which gives rise to reflection and interpretation. The Hero Image is another of his Rorschach works titled It was dark when... created in 2008.(Source:

Being smashed was a popular theme of Quilty’s paintings in the mid-noughties, in paintings such as Cullen – before and after (2006), a portrait of 2000 Archibald Prize winner and wild man of Australian art, Adam Cullen. Cullen became “the late Adam Cullen” in 2012, when he became a victim of his own bohemian cliché at the age of 47, dying from liver failure from years of drug and alcohol abuse. You can see that Quilty was exploring the dual canvas idea which evolved into the mirroring effect found in the Rorschach Works. (

The first of the works employing the Rorschach technique by Quilty that I could find is Skull painted in 2007.

However, in 2014 when Ben Quilty became the first Australian artist to have a solo exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London he exhibited several of the Rorschach paintings. The Saatchi Gallery aims to bring to the public the most interesting artists of the time and no doubt Quilty's Fairy Bower Rorschach(Oil on linen, 8 panels 240x550 cm) provoked considerable discussion.
(Source: Art Gallery NSW)

For an explanation and interpretation of this incredible painting I will quote from the Art Gallery of NSW which states: Fairy Bower Rorschach continues Ben Quilty's practice of oil painted Rorschach works where an original painted image is both damaged and duplicated by pressing one panel at a time onto another similar sized panel while the paint is still wet. The damaged and mirrored image is of a waterfall at Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales near where Quilty lives and works. Fairy Bower Falls is an idyllic and spectacular destination for tourists and locals. Photographs from the mid 19th century depict the full colonial splendour of women with parasols and men in top hats at the foot of the falls. Fairy Bower Falls is also reputedly the site of a massacre of scores of aboriginal people in the early 19th century.

By Rorschaching this image of such a precarious site Quilty asks the viewer to reconsider their conception of this landscape as a place of idyllic beauty. The duplication and damage of the image echoes the disturbing and violent history this site may have witnessed. This work continues Quilty's exploration of Australian identity and history. (

To see more paintings by Ben Quilty please follow this link to visit his site.

You have seen some of Ben Quilty’s portraits but I have saved the best to last- his Archibald Prize winning portrait of our beloved Australian iconic painter Margaret Olley. Coming up soon.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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