Jude (Baby), 2008
oil and Aerosol on linen
signed and inscribed with title ‘Ben Quilty ‘Jude’ (on the reverse)
Private collection from 2008 and thence by descent
One Show, Two Venues, Two Cities, Grant Pirrie, Sydney 6-30 August 2008 and at the Melbourne Art Fair, 30 July – 3 August 2008
Rex Butler, One Show, Two Venues, Two Cities, Grantpirrie, Sydney, June 2008, p.24. illus, p.08
In 2007, Ben Quilty painted a number of large-scale portraits of his newborn son, Joe. These works were considered a departure for Quilty from subjects that, in the artist’s own words, were “about young men looking for initiation” – cars, drugs, skulls and other explorations of masculinity. Becoming a father for the first tme, Quilty had to reconcile fatherhood with manhood, a new parental responsibility set against the irresponsibility of youth.
As then Senior Curator of the National Portrait Gallery Michael Desmond wrote in 2007, “The images of Joe, like all the portrait heads in the exhibition, possess an imposing aspect that both disturbs and challenges viewers’ preconceptions, an effect derived from their monumental scale and the dialogue between paint and what is painted.”
Quilty continued to paint young male babies on the same grand scale in the years that followed. This work, of a boy named Jude, uses the same broad, thick brushstrokes as the Joe paintings, depicting the young boy with his first teeth exposed in the middle of a crying fit. Quilty has omitted the boy’s body, leaving his head to float on the canvas. The top of his head is cropped, filling the canvas and giving an extra sense of overwhelming scale to the viewer. Quilty’s capturing of this moment of distress for the young boy in turn captures the distress of the new parent and the weight that this responsibility entails.
Image courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
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.