“I had such extreme feelings…I wanted to convey this.”

Ben Quilty is an Australian artist born in Sydney in 1973 where he spent his formative years growing up in Sydney’s north-west suburb of Kenthurst. He graduated from Oakhill College and then continued his studies at the Sydney College of the Arts at the University of Sydney. He followed this with further study, graduating from the University of Western Sydney with a Bachelor of Visual Communication.

Quilty acted as an Australian Official War Artist in Afghanistan from 11 October-3 November, 2011, when he was attached to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) observing their activities to record and interpret the experiences of Australian service personnel who were deployed as part of Operation Slipper, in Kabul, Kandahar and Tarin Kowt.  (On left is “Trooper Luke Norman After Afghanistan” (On loan from the artist,  Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT).

After his return, Quilty spent 6 months producing artworks for the Australian War Memorial’s National Collection.  His experiences and artwork as a War Artist was shown on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)  Program “War Paint” (one of the series of the Australian Story) screened on TV on 3 September, 2012.

On the right is “Captain S. After Afghanistan” painted in Robertson, NSW, 2011. Oil on linen (On loan from the artist,  Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT). Quilty asked the soldiers to sit for their portraits naked. He needed to see the body after its protective layers of uniform and body armour had been stripped away. For him, their nakedness expressed both the strength and the frailty of the human condition in time of war. The pose for this painting was chosen by Captain S and reflects an experience he had whilst serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Taking cover behind a low mud-brick wall, he spent 18 hours under constant fire from insurgents. A Fellow soldier had been hit in the upper leg and Captain S. called in support from an Apache gunship to allow the medivac helicopter to evacuate the wounded soldier.

These days, Quilty lives and works in Robertson, New South Wales. A talented artist, he has so far won the following prizes:

  • Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship (2002).
  • His painting Dead (Over the Hills and Far Away) won the National Artists Self Portrait Prize  (2007);
  • Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, Australia’s most lucrative portrait prize, for a painting of Australian musician Jimmy Barnes 2009;
  • Archibald Prize, for his portrait of Australian artist Margaret Olley. (2011 on his 7th entry to the prize); and the
  • Prudential Eye Award (2014).

Of his deployment, Quilty has commented: “I had such extreme feelings about the smell, sound, emotions of being in Afghanistan … I wanted to convey this.”

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