Ben Quilty, Aussie painter, mixing art & soul in equal measure – After Afghanistan – and how about HECS, sport?

Posted by | February 28, 2013 | All, Art & Culture, Enterprising, Philanthropy | No Comments


There is a lot to be said for authenticity and character, judicious thinking and well-chosen words in public life….often drowned out by the noise of those who magnify their own self-importance…

Artist Ben Quilty has always been the real deal, even when I met him as a callow youth in the editing suites of the Channel 10 newsroom circa 1990 where he was being tutored in TV news editing, by his/our great friend ‘Jimmy’! Honest, humble, hard-working and eager to savour life’s great mysteries.

He has kicked off 2013 in a mood to send a message.  All, it seems, off the back of a moving and evocative exhibition ‘After Afghanistan’, in which he has recorded his experiences and observations on canvas – I assure you, the paintings will move you. (Catalogue cover, above, published by the Australian War Memorial)

Quilty spent three weeks with Australia’s forces in Afghanistan in 2011 – as part of his official war artist commission from the Australian War Memorial.

Quilty & matesIt’s on at the National Art School in Sydney and it will travel around the country.  Quilty also talked about the experience with Alan Jones here on 2GB.  That’s Ben, (right) amid the teeming throngs, on the opening night – importantly some of the army mates he honoured, wereQuilty in NAS exhibit there to honour him on the night (left).

His art practice has always explored the themes of masculinity, morality and mateship – involving cars, parties, conversations and beers – as well as what values underpin our national identity and what it means to be Australian.  As he says in his catalogue: “….work with these young men in Afghanistan was almost the height of my exploration of the way masculinity plays itself out in our culture.”

Quilty walks the talk – and I can hear the chorus of support for this prescient article, by Ben, in The AGE/SMH on February 28 – comparing the spoiled sports stars to, surely, way more deserving men and women of our Australian Army. He loves his sport, but argues it is a drain on tax – make sports people also pay HECS. It is iniquitous. Who and what do we value more.  As Ben Quilty says “..the spotlight is harsh, but Afghanistan is harsher.”  He is providing, as he would wish, a voice for those who don’t get to say it publicly. Great work, Ben.

Speaking of great work – he has built an incomparable art practice over some 20 years that always challenges and amazes. His Archibald Prize (2011 – Margaret Olley) win, was hugely popular and well-received.  The 2013 ‘Archie’ will be awarded on Friday 22 March.  Don’t miss it!

As for Ben Quilty, keep up the good work and we can’t wait to see you, your work and hear what’s got you fired up….soon!

Check out his Australian gallery reps – Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne and Jan Murphy in Brisbane.