An exhibition of paintings by the acclaimed contemporary Australian artist, Ben Quilty, is currently on display at Jan Murphy Gallery, Fortitude Valley. As viewers approach the gallery space they are first accosted by the dark confronting glare of the artist in his Self-portrait, on the day of the review 2013 as he stares numbly out of the gallery’s main window through the passing traffic of Brunswick Street. The self-portrait consists of thick virtuosic smears that protrude from the canvas, which are characteristic of Quilty’s style.
The exhibition, titled Olivia’s Dream, features artworks depicting surreal and grotesque human forms. In Hollow 1 (Olivia’s Dream) 2013 and Hollow 2 (Olivia’s Dream) 2013, for example, Quilty has distorted the human form by painting the figures with enlarged hands, gnarled twisted legs and bald earless heads. In Hollow 1 the grotesque male figure appears to be resting in an idyllic field complete with house and chimney, whilst in Hollow 2 the distorted female figure floats in a dark void. Evidently, Quilty’s artworks have deep psychological undercurrents and he also presents surreal dreamscapes in GrandpaDream2013 and Kat’s Nightmare (Scribbler) 2013.
In 2011 Quilty was commissioned by the Australian War Memorial to work as an official war artist attached to the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan. On his return to Australia, Quilty asked a number of the soldiers he had met in Afghanistan to sit for him in his studio. This led to the creation of a series of intimate portraits such as Baino (After Afghanistan) 2013,which is included in the Olivia’s Dreamexhibition. The portrait depicts the stark white torso of the soldier, Baino, standing in an oily slick of thick dark paint with his head bowed and his hands cupped towards his face. In his After Afghanistan portraits Quilty sought to capture the mortality of his subjects without their uniforms and weapons. The human frailty of his subject is particularly evident in Baino (After Afghanistan) 2013.
The exhibition also includes three self-portraits by the artist. These paintings emphasise the psychological intensity of Quilty’s personality, offset by a dark sense of humour which is hinted at in the title of his work, Self-portrait on cold and flu tablets, 2013.
Quilty is well known for his 2011 Archibald prize-winning portrait of Margaret Olley on display in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He is currently a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He is also the 2013 GQ Artist of the Year. Quilty studied Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts and Visual Communication at the University of Western Sydney. He is represented by Jan Murphy Gallery in Brisbane and GRANTPIRRIE in Sydney.