One of the reasons we went to the Australian War Memorial last week was to see the current exhibition of paintings by Ben Quilty, an official war artist who went to Afghanistan in 2011. To quote from the AWM website “Quilty has created large-scale portraits that focus on the intense physicality of these soldiers and on the emotional and psychological consequences of their service.”
These works display Quilty’s characteristic large slashes of paint and this completely ‘works’ with the intensity of his subject matter.
Three portraits of Air Commodore John Oddie, Ben Quilty
What is quite unusual is that Quilty asked the men and women who sat for their portraits to pose naked, to show what the body is like after it is stripped of its uniform and body armour. They were also asked “to select a pose that reflected an aspect of his or her experience. Some of them drew on an actual event from their deployment, others on the tiredness or the emotions they felt after their return to Australia”. The results are dramatic and almost emotionally too intimate in their outcome.
Trooper M, After Afghanistan, Ben Quilty
Given the intensity of these works it came as some relief to be able to step backwards and look at some of the sketches that Quilty made during his actual time in Afghanistan, including these two.
Ben Quilty, sketches made in Afghanistan
As a sketcher I’m always interested in seeing what other artists draw. I also think that these straightforward works are a great tonic for many people I meet who, when starting to sketch, are overcome by the feeling that their drawings aren’t ‘good enough’ and are consequently of little value. Quilty shows that drawings don’t have to be massively refined to be effective. It’s enough to capture what is of interest to you.
PS please excuse the poor colour quality, as these were taken without flash. More colour-accurate versions of this exhibition can be found at Ben Quilty’s website.
The latest show at the Drill Hall Gallery is Ben Quilty’s ‘Trigger Happy’. While I have seen quite a bit of Quilty’s work on the TV, following his stint as an Official War Artist in Afghanistan, this is the first time I’ve seen a whole show of his work in the flesh.
The ‘Baby’ room. A number of paintings of Quilty’s children and also a painting by young Joe Quilty at the Drill Hall Gallery.
And ‘fleshy’ is definitely a good way to describe Quilty’s painting style. The oil paint is applied in such generous amounts that I had to wonder how any work painted this year managed to dry in time for the show. Not to worry they did and they are on the walls. The show includes a large number of portraits, a series of landscapes and a room of delicate works in watercolour pencil along with some prints. While I was there the room of family portraits was attracting the greatest number of visitors. The end wall is dominated by two large portraits of the artist’s son. On another side is a ‘Rorschach’ painting of his daughter (on the left hand side of the photo above) and other members of the artist’s family. While the two portraits of Joe dominate there are equally equally eloquent smaller images such as the head and shoulders portrait of Kylie and another portrait of Joe in watercolour (on the far right of the photo above. Clearly people were responding to these beautiful works – there was no 10 seconds and then move on in front of these paintings. The other room which really impressed me was the one containing the drawings. These small works demonstrated such a delicate touch and clearly showed Quilty’s fine drafting skills . I made sure I had plenty of time to see the show so I was able to do some blind drawings of some of the works I enjoyed. The outcomes of doing a blind drawing of a large gestural painting can be rather obscure, so once I got home I scanned my drawings and then did some additional work on them in Photoshop©. For the two drawings you can see the original and then the version I coloured, drawing on similar colours to those used in Quilty’s paintings. I was pleasantly surprised with the result for both images.
Blind drawing of ‘Joe’ by Ben Quilty, 2007.
Blind drawing with colour of ‘Joe’, by Ben Quilty 2007.
Blind drawing of ‘The Lot’ by Ben Quilty, 2010
Blind drawing with colour of ‘The Lot’, by Ben Quilty, 2010.