Rorschach 2, 2008
Oil and aerosol rorschach on linen
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.
Image courtesy of the artist and Grantpirrie, Sydney
Famously inspired by Arthur Streeton's nationalistic directive that an artist should choose a subject that is local and familiar to them, in 2002 Ben Quilty produced a sell-out show of bold paintings depicting the beloved Torana that sat in his yard. Since then, Quilty's emphatically expressive work has continued to command attention, and the acclaimed artist frequently exhibits in national and international exhibitions and art fairs. His work is held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art and numerous corporate and private collections. He won the prestigious Doug Moran Portrait Prize in 2009, and was a multiple finalist in the Wynne and Archibald Prize, before winning the Archibald in 2011 with his tender portrait of Margaret Olley. In October 2011 Quilty travelled to Afghanistan as an official war artist.
Important solo exhibitions include 'Trigger-Happy: Ben Quilty's Brave New World', Drill Hall Gallery Australian National University, Canberra, 2013; 'After Afghanistan', National Art School Sydney then touring nationally, 2013; 'Inhabit', Art Gallery Of South Australia, Adelaide, 2011; 'Ben Quilty LIVE!', The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria, 2009 and, 'Ben Quilty: Death-wish', Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, 2007.
Quilty grew up in the outer suburbs of Sydney and his history as a hard-drinking, hard-living youth is an important part of the artist's mythology. He says "I'm trying to use that weird dark behaviour for something a bit more positive." However equally significant to the artist's biography is the double-degree in fine arts and design that he received from the Sydney College of the Arts and the University of Sydney, as well as further study he undertook in 1996 in Aboriginal History at Melbourne's Monash University. Nick Mitzevich, the director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, has said: "Quilty is not a painter who sits on his laurels and accepts his success. He is constantly reinvigorating both his subjects and his techniques." Ben Quilty now lives in Robertson in the NSW Southern Highlands, and his large studio sits in the shadow of the Big Potato. Ben Quilty is represented by Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.