Ben Quilty looks more like a lumberjack than a painter: stocky build, big beard, flannel shirt. But Quilty, from Paterson, New South Wales, is actually one of Australia’s most promising portrait artists.
2011 marked two significant events in Ben Quilty’s young career. He won the 2011 Archibald Prize for his portrait of artist Margaret Olley, and was also selected to spend a month touring with troops in Afghanistan as Australia’s official war artist. This experience proved to be highly emotional, testing Quilty’s ability to engage with extremely challenging subject matter.
As a portrait artist, Quilty painted a number of servicemen, attempting to capture their distress on canvas. Captain S After Afghanistan placed Quilty as a finalist in the 2012 Archibald Prize competition. In it, the viewer can feel the turmoil of the subject, vulnerable in his nude state. The position was chosen by the subject, reflecting an actual combat experience. Quilty explains:
“The pose for this painting was chosen by Captain S and reflects a memorable and terrifying experience he had as an officer in the Australian Army in 2011. Under constant fire from insurgents in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan, Captain S spent 18 hours taking cover behind a low mud-brick wall.
His body was clad in camouflage uniform and heavy armour with a weapon and communications equipment secured to his back. His fellow soldier and friend had been hit by a bullet in the upper leg early in the battle behind the same low wall. From his position behind the wall, Captain S not only commanded aircraft gunfire, he also coordinated the landing of the medical helicopter in order to evacuate the seriously wounded young soldier.”
The maturity of Quilty’s ability is clearly well beyond his years. At barely 40 years of age, Quilty’s best work is surely ahead of him.