A Quilty Pleasure

Visiting the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, I discovered an exhibition by the compelling painter Ben Quilty. And, wow, what a discovery!

His current show, simply titled Quilty, spans a period of work over the last 20 years and has a shock value that is grounded in integrity and tremendous feeling. His work demands attention and it’s thrilling. Ben Quilty states that “My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance.”

The pieces in the show reflect this sentiment with strong palettes, pointed themes and immediate impact which invite long, thoughtful gazing.

Torano no 5, oil on canvas, 2003.

It’s not just the scale of the canvases that draws you in. The paint itself leaps out at you, placed on the canvas in multi-inch thick strokes and dimensional layering. In close up view, the strokes appear almost violent in nature and excitedly passionate in feeling. This artist definitely knows how to make a statement.

Fairy Bower Rorschach, oil on linen, 2012. A meditation on the treatment and dispossession of Aboriginal people.

The show provides an interesting cross section of subject matter, covering everything from cars to the outback to Afghanistan war veterans. In addition, he is not above sharing political views and those show up in some of the works as well.

Hired as a war artist, Mr. Quilty chose to paint what he saw when the conflict was over. The series, "After Afghanistan," features returned soldiers. This 2012 oil on linen piece is titled Sergeant P.
Captain Kate Porter, from the "After Afghanistan" series, oil on linen, 2012.

The entire exhibition is breathtaking and I was thrilled to learn about an artist that was unfamiliar to me. For those visiting Sydney, Quilty will run through February 2.

A stunning portrait of a fellow artist shortly before her death. Margaret Olley, oil on linen, 2011.
A Fascination, the Last Supper, oil on linen, 2017.