From just the small sample of included works above, you can instantly recognise why Ben Quilty’s Quilty featured in our 10 Unmissable Exhibitions Of 2019. ‘For most of this century, Quilty has been delivering urgent visions of our time in history,’ introduces Lisa Slade, Art Gallery of South Australia’s assistant director of artistic programs, and the curated of this showcase. ‘An unlikely activist, he wields paint to draw our attention to our responsibility as critical citizens in an increasingly fraught world.’
The artist’s ‘radical humanism’ has seen him travel to war zones, refugee camps, and the Bali prison where ‘Bali Nine’ pair Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed. ‘Not many of us would willingly undertake such journeys, which reveal Quilty’s compassion for the victim, and his determination to use his skills (and an increasingly high profile) to make a difference,’ praised art critic John McDonald.
This exhibition, presented as part of the 2019 Adelaide Festival, spans Ben’s early reflections on the initiation rituals performed by young Australian men to revisions of the Australian landscape, and raw, intimate portraits of himself, his family and his friends. ‘My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance,’ explains the artist.’ Through it, I hope to push compassion to the front of national debate.’
Bringing the artist’s extraordinary canvases to their largest audience to date, the showcase highlights the brave evolution of Ben’s output over his three-decade-spanning career. The richly textured works dare us to question our history and engage with our world, particularly as policy becomes more insular and individuals feel more isolated. It comes as no surprise, then, that the artist connected with Sydney hip hop collective The Herd – known for their politically charged tracks, social commentary, and activism – to open this show with a performance in the Gallery’s forecourt.
Quilty by Ben Quilty
March 2nd to June 2nd
Art Gallery Of South Australia
North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia
June 29th to October 13th
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
November 9th, 2019 to February 2nd, 2020
Art Gallery of New South Wales