Recognisable for their rich impasto surfaces and expressive forms, Ben Quilty's paintings subvert notions of traditional portraiture to explore the relationship between the personal and the cultural. Addressing confronting and unsettling subject matter they at once challenge the viewer and the supposed limits of the medium.Read More
In 2011, Quilty was appointed Australia's official war artist. He observed the activities of the Australian Defence Force in Kabul, Kandahar, and Tarin Kowt and subsequently spent six months producing work for the Australian War Memorial's National Collection.
Describing his a-political approach to these paintings the artist told Ocula Magazine in 2014, 'In the end, my story was to tell the story of what was happening to the people involved and responding to the immediate experience of what was happening. It was a very visceral response to the human condition, and what happens to human beings under such circumstances.'
Ben Quilty's familiarity with the war-torn nation led him to run a fundraising campaign in 2021, to raise money to support Afghan people facing uncertainties after the Taliban takeover of the country.
In 2016 Quilty travelled to Lebanon, Greece, and Serbia as a guest of World Vision alongside author Richard Flanagan to document the plight of Syrian refugees. Works both by the artist and by the refugee children that he encountered were exhibited in a solo exhibition titled The Stainat Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.
From an early stage of his career Ben Quilty made paintings that compositionally and conceptually incorporated elements of the Rorschach technique. Developed in the 1920s by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach, as a psychological tool, the test revolves around the perception of mirrored inkblots. Quilty adapts these ideas to examine dual perspectives of land, culture and history.
This is most apparent even in works from 2021 like Prayer, and the 'Afterlife' paintings. Here the colourful works take the appearance of the Rorschach ink blots more directly. Even in more figurative images like The Great Barrier Reef (2021) and On Lizard Island (2021), there is a duality between the pairs of wrestling figures that almost seem to emanate as conflicting sides from the same body.
Ben Quilty has also expanded his artistic scope to sculpture, in 2018 he made the sculpture, Not a Creature Was Stirring using the life jackets used by Syrian refugees. In 2021 he also created the playful figurative bronze Freefall (2021), an inverted nude figure seemingly partially buried headfirst in the ground.