I visited the Bendigo Art Gallery last week to see the Ben Quilty show. I’ve been a fan of his painting since I saw one of his car crash paintings and a documentary about him where he spoke about Australian masculinity and what inspired him. European settlement and the plight of Indigenous Australians are ongoing themes in his work.
What fascinates me is the amount of paint he uses! When I look closely I always wonder how long his work must take to dry. I love his dramatically rough painterly style.
Kuta Rorschach No. 2, 2014, oil on canvas (detail)
Three of his Rorschach series of large landscapes are almost symmetrical mirror images, reflected from a central vertical axis.
Fairy Bower Rorschach, 2012, oil on linen (detail)
Fairy Bower Falls is a beautiful tourist attraction, also thought to be the site of an horrific massacre of Aboriginal people. Kuta Rorschach No. 2 shows the famous Bali beach, a scene of hedonistic holidays, which also reminds us of the terrorist bombings of 2002.
Evening shadows, Rorschach after Johnstone, 2011, oil on linen
Evening shadows is based on J. H. Johnstone’s famous 1881 painting of the Murray River in South Australia, which depicts an idyllic natural setting with three Aboriginal people camping beside the river. Quilty’s interpretation shows the human figures partially obliterated and can be seen as a comment on the destruction of our native people, as well as destruction of the natural environment, given the degraded and polluted state of the Murray River today. Ben Quilty’s powerful work asks hard questions about our colonial past, and current environmental destruction. I found these paintings moving and confronting.
Evening shadows, Rorschach after Johnstone 2011 (detail)