Ben Quilty

What does it take to inspire one of Australia's favourite artists?

Photo: Ben Quilty

There’s something unapologetic about the way Ben Quilty layers, smears and smudges paint onto his canvas. His subjects are varied, from his ‘wasted’ mates to his TJ torana, but every one of his paintings has the same confronting effect on the viewer.

With his appearance at this year’s Semi-Permanent conference fast approaching, we sat down with Ben to hear his inspirations, advice, and how much paint it actually takes to create his luscious works.

Your work has been described as depicting “flawed masculinity”. Why does this particular concept inspire you creatively? 
I grew up part of it. Successful rites of passage for young males in my society were non-existent. Creativity is driven by experience. My experience constantly informs my work

When you asked Margaret Olly to sit for what would be your 2011 Archibald Prize winning portrait, she said no. How did you change her mind, and why were you so determined to portray her?
Most humble, grounded people say no to sitting for me. It is against normal notions of modesty to sit still in front of an artist while they use paint to create an image. Margaret said no for the same reason. I wanted to make a work about her because she was my most important patron. She was a self-less and dedicated advocate of my art practice and I wanted to thank her for that, publicly.

The following year you were appointed as an official war artist, which saw you spending time with Australian troops at the Tarin Kowt base in Afghanistan. How did this experience inform (and no doubt, change) your work?
My work has mostly explored notions of masculine identity and rituals, coming of age ceremonies and initiation ceremonies. War is the ultimate form of masculine initiation. I wanted to meet and work with the men who agreed to face the ultimate risk.

Self Portrait, oil on linen

In a general sense, what role can art play in difficult circumstances?
Creativity is the truest expression of the soul, so under pressure art can illustrate the strengths and fears and weakness of humanity

You’ll be giving insight into the journey fine artist in the commercial world at this year’s Semi-permanent conference. What’s your one piece of advice you’d give a budding artist?
Ignore everything around you, including your audience. If you are not concentrating on your own visual language you will never find it. The rest is all white noise.

And lastly, we’re curious. With your works so wonderfully textured with generous lashings of colour, how much paint do you go through on an average project?
I’m using a new paint from Paris, Marin Beaux Arts Oil. But it is hard to get and I am running out rapidly. I’m looking for new brands all the time lately. Each project demands something different from the mediums I use. I do use and waste alot of pigment. Sometimes that waste upsets me so I make an effort to really understand the products I use.

Troy Park, After Afghanistan.2012
Troy Park after Afghanistan, oil on linen

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