Ben Quilty

Red XB (study), 2006
oil on canvas
40.5 x 45 cm
signed & dated '2006 Ben Quilty' and inscribed 'Red XB Study' (on the reverse)


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The artist
Private collection, Sydney

"For Quilty, the conventional landscape vista and the concept of Australia as being defined by the 'desert, the outback and the Artist-hero has lost its currency in the highly urbanised environs of metropolitan Sydney. Comprising a kerbside medley of cars and vans on multiple canvases of varying scales, ache (the 2006 exhibition of Quilty’s) depicts a more accurate rendering of Quilty's suburban situation….Far from vessels which transport passengers from A to B, Quilty sees every vehicle as a telling extension of its owner, a prosthesis of each character type perhaps. They can also be viewed as a symbol of the initiation process of almost every young Australian into the mobile market economy, a sexual rite of passage or a first taste of freedom for every new owner….

Quilty often depicts subjects which refer to much broader themes of cultural identity and the strange ways in which we construct meaning and individuality in our post-colonial habitat. However, what is most striking when considering these works is the unapologetic and sensual manner in which he executes them. It is the physical treatment of the subject which gives weight to the issues being addressed: these works are as much about painting as they are about sociocultural identity. Each 'portrait' emerges through an unabashed application of paint, creating areas of light and shade with confident swathes of well-observed colour. He paints these vehicles in a style verging on Fauvism with a reverence for their individual form, recreating the nuances of bodywork and presence with an economy of brushstrokes and great slabs of impasto. Although the appropriation of the 'everyday' and far-reaching definitions of the Australian identity in painting are by no means unexplored genres, Quilty's paintings go beyond these tested conventions, reinvigorating our sense of materiality and process. Sensuous and tactile, these are surfaces which celebrate the possibilities and immediacy of a contested medium.” (Clare Lewis, Ben Quilty Ache, 2006

  • Red XB (study)

Image courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

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Famously inspired by Arthur Streeton's nationalistic directive that an artist should choose a subject that is local and familiar to them, in 2002 Ben Quilty produced a sell-out show of bold paintings depicting the beloved Torana that sat in his yard. Since then, Quilty's emphatically expressive work has continued to command attention, and the acclaimed artist frequently exhibits in national and international exhibitions and art fairs. His work is held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art and numerous corporate and private collections. He won the prestigious Doug Moran Portrait Prize in 2009, and was a multiple finalist in the Wynne and Archibald Prize, before winning the Archibald in 2011 with his tender portrait of Margaret Olley. In October 2011 Quilty travelled to Afghanistan as an official war artist.

Important solo exhibitions include 'Trigger-Happy: Ben Quilty's Brave New World', Drill Hall Gallery Australian National University, Canberra, 2013; 'After Afghanistan', National Art School Sydney then touring nationally, 2013; 'Inhabit', Art Gallery Of South Australia, Adelaide, 2011; 'Ben Quilty LIVE!', The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria, 2009 and, 'Ben Quilty: Death-wish', Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, 2007.

Quilty grew up in the outer suburbs of Sydney and his history as a hard-drinking, hard-living youth is an important part of the artist's mythology. He says "I'm trying to use that weird dark behaviour for something a bit more positive." However equally significant to the artist's biography is the double-degree in fine arts and design that he received from the Sydney College of the Arts and the University of Sydney, as well as further study he undertook in 1996 in Aboriginal History at Melbourne's Monash University. Nick Mitzevich, the director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, has said: "Quilty is not a painter who sits on his laurels and accepts his success. He is constantly reinvigorating both his subjects and his techniques." Ben Quilty now lives in Robertson in the NSW Southern Highlands, and his large studio sits in the shadow of the Big Potato. Ben Quilty is represented by Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.