Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane
Private collection, Sydney
For audiences of Ben Quilty, the Rorschach images will continue to represent a pivotal moment in the career of an artist whose technical and intellectual capacity commands greater and greater presence with each outing.
From early showings at GrantPirrie in mid-2000, Ben Quilty’s unabashed use of oil on linen was instantly regarded as a definitive practice. But here, in the inverse print of a skull painted first in signature strokes of neat paint from the tube then swiftly transferred to a clean canvas, the artist reveals a will to consistently interrogate the act of painting itself.
This image has been produced on a scale, more intimate than is usually associated with the artist. Its size allows for a visceral appreciation of the doubled image and the subtle variations that transmute from the right to left side canvas. The skull, in bright silhouette, is a masterful work of texture, its perfectly calibrated palate giving a sense of velocity or explosion of the cranial ridges.
This is one of very few examples of Quilty’s Rorschach to be joined along a front side seam. Where dual heads usually explode from a common neck, or sit cheek-to-cheek, these two skulls face each other in a powerful visual metaphor.
The title of the work "Skull 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."
The skull is a motif returned to time and again by Quilty, his rigorous approach to practice turning its attention to questions of masculinity and mortality, the throes of young nationhood and identity.