Ben Quilty grew up in Kenthurst in Sydney’s north-west. A multiple finalist for the Archibald Prize. He finally won the prize in 2011 for his portrait of Australian
artist Margaret Olley.
Ben Quilty was born in 1973 in Australia and grew up in Kenthurst in Sydney’s North West. Although Quilty was a reckless teenager it was this period of his life that inspired most of his work today. After completing high school he went straight into the Sydney College of the Arts where he completed his double degree in fine arts and design. Even through the dark period of his life Quilty continued to paint, although he has said it seemed like more of a hobby than anything substantial. After completing his degree Quilty was “getting nowhere fast as an artist” and was labouring during the day and working in a kitchen at night. It was around this time that he completed a second degree in design and found himself a job in the Channel 7 news room. He also completed studies in Aboriginal History at Melbourne’s Monash University in 1996.
It took him a while, but in time Quilty realised that he wanted to tell the stories of his past when he was a “drug-fuelled, testosterone-charged” young man. This led to a series of paintings which depicted his car, a Holden Torana and ultimately was the beginning of his career. Images such as skulls, snakes and grotesque Siamese-twin compositions have since been seen in his paintings creating a dark and uncanny genre across the majority of his artworks.
Ben Quilty has been widely recognised for his artwork. Quilty’s paintings of his Holden Torana produced a sell-out show in 2002 and since then his work has been seen in many exhibits and art fairs.
Quilty was awarded a Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2002.
From 11 October until 3 November 2011, Quilty was attached to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) observing their activities in Kabul, Kandahar and Tarin Kowt. His task was to record and interpret the experiences of Australian service personnel who are deployed as part of Operation Slipper. After his return, Quilty spent six months producing work for the Australian War Memorial’s National Collection. Such work is in the tradition of war artists that began in World War I with artists Arthur Streeton, George Lambert and Frederick McCubbin. Quilty’s experiences as a war artist and the work he produced as a result of it was explored in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Program “War Paint” (one of the series Australian Story) screened on 3 September 2012.
Some of Quilty’s work can be seen at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Quilty won the Doug Moran Portrait Prize in 2009 for his painting Jimmy Barnes, There but for the Grace of God Go I, no.2. In the same year Quilty was named runner up in the Archibald Prize for the same portrait. He then won the Archibald Prize two years later for his portrait of
Quilty employs an impasto style of painting in his artwork. He smears, smudges, cakes and slaps the paint onto a large scale canvas with a unique ability. He works fast and audiences can see each brush stroke which gives the three dimensional appearance and adds another element to his work. His paintings are said to “challenge assumptions” with the bold and unsettling objects which he depicts in his paintings.