Private collection, Adelaide
'Smashed', Grantpirrie, Sydney, 6-30 August 2008
"Rorschach 2" (2008) is a significant early work from Ben Quilty's celebrated series of Rorschach paintings. The sensational oil and aerosol on linen stretches to almost 2 metres in length, commanding immediate attention as well as closer, quieter investigation. With his signature thick, unabashed application of oils, Quilty has painted the left hand skull directly onto the linen, and then - still wet and piled high with paint - pressed the two panels together to create its inverse imprint. Through this unique strategy of doubling, Quilty creates a second image which he has not touched directly, complicating the idea of the "artist's hand" in the creation of a masterpiece. While the back-to-back skulls produce a powerful sense of symmetry, there is an acutely compelling tension in the subtle variations across the two sides of the picture plane.
The title of the work "Rorschach 2" alludes to the well known psychoanalytic tradition of Rorschach inkblots: silhouetted mirror-images that are used by the analyst to trigger associative thoughts in their patients. However, this approach to image production also recalls the childhood technique of 'butterfly paintings', and the artist has pointed out that "Most young men's lived experience of Rorschach's is from making art in kindy, not psychoanalysis." This evocative painting is a superb example of the kind of rigorous approach to practice Ben Quilty has become famous for. His work not only explores notions of masculinity, mortality and nationhood but also consistently interrogates the act of painting itself.