From the dangerous coming of age rituals of young Australian men, to the complex social history of his country, he is constantly critiquing notions of identity, patriotism and belonging.
At its core, Quilty’s practice is inextricably linked to his own apprehension – as a male, as an Australian, and as a world citizen. A truly self-reflexive practice. Quilty packs a punch with brazen, gutsy pieces that impart a sense of social responsibility while presenting judgement and constant evaluation; ultimately of our existence and treatment of each other.
In recognising Australia's relationship to the United Kingdom as a former British colony, Quilty's exhibition Free Fall focuses on the geographical relationship of Australia internationally — as the world's largest island and smallest continent — and the historical consequences of violent encounters originating from the frontier wars with his nation's indigenous people that have served as a foundation in shaping a national psyche. This curated selection of medium to large scale paintings, sugar lift etchings and a major sculpture, are a culmination of works produced during recent pandemic times and lockdown environment. Free Fall continues to explore Quilty's exploration of Australian cultural identity and the darker sides of island life within his artistic practice.
By acknowledging the bloody, mass murders that have occurred on Australian soil and utlising Australia's beaches as a backdrop for his works, Quilty channels a sinister element of Australian identity and history in this show. An inward-looking racist nature is revealed and conveyed through his figurative compositions that appears to rear its ugly head in the face of difference and what is perceived as a threat beyond the waters and periphery of Australia’s island paradise.
The artist cites Sydney's Cronulla riots and historical figures such as the Australian explorer, John Batman, that make up a shameful, often forgotten and ignored past centring around male conflict and inherent violence. Many of his paintings in this show are based from life drawings of male sitters and reference material sourced from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighters and work by the late American Realist painter George Bellows depicting boxing figures locked in combat.
The artist comments: "To make paintings of men punching the life out of each other feels like an apt response to being alive in 2021”. In this way, Quilty continues to pose important questions about contemporary humanity and consider our shortcomings in an effort to positively make a path towards progress.
About the artist:
Born, Sydney, Australia in 1973, Quilty lives and works in Sydney, Australia. Quilty won the Doug Moran Portrait Prize in 2009 for his painting of Jimmy Barnes, There but for the Grace of God Go I, no. 2. In the same year, Quilty was named runner-up for the Archibald Prize for the same portrait. He then won the Archibald Prize – Australia’s most prestigious portrait painting prize – two years later for his portrait of Margaret Olley. Quilty won the 2002 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, the 2007 National Self Portrait Prize, the 2009 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, the Prudential Eye Award for Contemporary Art in Singapore in 2014.
In 2011 Quilty was attached to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) observing their activities in Kabul, Kandahar and Tarin Kowt as an official war artist. His task was to record and interpret the experiences of Australian service personnel who are deployed as part of Operation Slipper. After his return, Quilty spent six months producing work for the Australian War Memorial's National Collection. Such work is in the tradition of war artists that began in World War I with artists Arthur Streeton, George Lambert and Frederick McCubbin. The resulting body of work was exhibited in 2013 at the National Art School Gallery, Canberra. In the same year, Quilty was awarded Australia’s most prestigious portrait painting prize The Archibald Prize for his iconic portrait of the late Australia artist, Margaret Olley. In 2014, he was selected as the winner of the Prudential Eye Award, Singapore, and invited to become the first Australian to hold a solo exhibition at Saatchi Gallery in London. In 2016, Quilty was invited by World Vision Australia to travel to Greece, Serbia and Lebanon with esteemed Australian author, Richard Flanagan, to witness firsthand the international refugee crisis. This global topic was explored via a series of key works as a result of his experiences abroad in addition to the publication Home: Drawings by Syrian Children (2018) produced by Penguin Random House featuring a collection of drawings by Syrian children reflecting on their forsaken homeland.
Quilty’s work has been widely exhibited in a number of significant national and international exhibitions. Recent solo exhibitions include: The Entangled Landscape, Cairns Art Gallery, Cairns, Australia (2021), Still life after the virus, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane, Australia (2020), 150 Years, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, Australia (2020) and The Difficulty, (A3) Arndt Agency, Berlin, Germany (2019). In 2019, Quilty staged his first major survey exhibition across Australia at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide entitled ‘QUILTY’, followed by a tour to Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Ben Quilty’s work is represented in public Australian collections that include: the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, NSW; the Bendigo Art Gallery, VIC; Tarrawarra Museum of Art, VIC; the Australian War Memorial, Canberra; and the Australia Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra.
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Ben Quilty, "The Peanut Eaters no. 3"