A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Contemporary Art at its Finest
The Art Gallery of SA is currently showing a major retrospective exhibition of contemporary artist Ben Quilty. This exhibition also has the distinction of being the first major survey exhibition of this acclaimed contemporary artist. The exhibition is simply titled Quilty.
Ben Quilty, Australia, born 1973, The Blue Pill (explain the world), 2016, Southern Highlands, New South Wales, oil on linen, 183.0 x 173.0 cm; Private collection, Courtesy the artist.
Ben Quilty has stamped his name on the Australian art world with early works featuring scenes and experiences from his youth. He relates in the short documentary that is screening with the exhibition that he researched iconic Australian artists like Arthur Streeton, who had painted what was around them, what was in their backyard. 'So, I looked in my backyard and saw a car, and thought alright, I'll paint that'. So, began a series of paintings of his beloved Holden Torana.
Ben Quilty, Australia, born 1973, Torana no. 5, 2003, Melbourne, oil on canvas, 120.0 x 140.0 cm; Private collection, Courtesy the artist, photo: Philip Betts-Murray, Betts Group
The entrance to the exhibition features a series of mutating portraits of Captain Cook, and several huge black bird cages that adorn the main exhibition foyer space. The whole exhibition focuses on huge works that have a visceral impact. Quilty is an artist who uses big canvases and lathers of paint that sometimes take years to dry.
The images are of note for their exploration of masculinity but also verge into the personal and political or as Quilty relates the personal is the political. Quilty was an official war artist in Afghanistan and has painted portraits of soldiers he met during this time. These portraits are often harrowing and agonising in nature. As a viewer in the safe confines of an art gallery they manage to convey pain and are confronting to the viewer.
The exhibition features some landmark works such as Quilty's portrait of Margaret Olley which won the Archibald Prize in 2011. There is also a self-portrait that adorns most of the major publicity posters which has a complex wounded stare. The artist exudes an air of energy mixed with resignation while trying to make sense of what he encounters around him.
Lisa Slade (curator) has been a leading light in fostering the emergence of Ben Quilty's art practice. Her curation of this major exhibition has built on allowing the darkened lighting and space for the most vivid art works which command and dominate their spaces. Quilty's fascination with disassembling landscapes via the ink blot style Rorschach approach means entire walls are covered. Ben Quilty approaches his practice with a sense of curiosity as he is seen moving his canvases at strange angles, which is how he arrived at his painting 'Banksia Man' which features a very well-known ex-prime minister.
Ben Quilty, Australia, born 1973, Self-portrait after Afghanistan, 2012, Southern Highlands, New South Wales, oil on linen, 130.0 x 120.0 cm; Private collection, Sydney, Courtesy the artist, photo: Mim Stirling.
The exhibition notes feature a quote by the artist that presents Quilty's artistic and personal vision: My work is about working out how to live in this world, it's about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance. Through it I hope to push compassion to the front of national debate.'
Quilty tackles art of biblical and mythical proportions while also seeking to show our human vulnerabilities in intimate portraits. This is an artist who is not afraid to get under the skin of the Australian psyche. Now showing at the Art Gallery of SA until 2 June, 2019.