QUILTY: A PORTRAIT
Ben Quilty has emerged as one of the leading artists of our generation. At the height of his powers, Quilty is an artist of force and character. Forty years ago, Brett Whitely was widely celebrated as Australia’s most challenging contemporary artist. Following in his footsteps, Quilty has gained a public profile every bit as dynamic as Whiteley’s.
In March 2019, a major exhibition of Quilty’s art begins touring Australia. Catherine Hunter, an arts producer committed to the Australian arts for more than three decades, first filmed Quilty for more than ten years ago. Using the production of the exhibition as a guide, Hunter explores the journey of the artist from that of a young man obsessed with Holden Toranas to the one who brought, through his art, the full spectrum of the Afghanistan tragedy to public consciousness.
Quilty’s story is familiar to many. An artist with a profound commitment to social activism fuelled by a boundless curiosity about the human condition. Hunter’s film touches briefly on Quilty’s personal story but strikes out into territory never before addressed. Quilty is fundamentally a painter, someone intimately engaged with the physical challenges of making visual art, as well as the emotional power of texture and colour. Qulity has granted Hunter unprecedented access to his process.
A major shift in Quilty’s art is a growing interest in our national history and the dark corners of our past. He travels to Myall Creek with his father Richard and 13-year-old son Joe to immerse himself in the notorious massacre in 1838 of Aboriginal men, women and children. The process of transforming his insights into the physicality of paint will be one of the revelations of the film.
Ben Quilty is an extremely articulate human being and this film explores his philosophy and morality in considerable depth. It calls on audiences to expand their perspective on him as a person and of his work. Lisa Slade, curator of the Quilty exhibition speaks, as do Sally Scales (deputy chair of the APY Lands Board) and the artist Vincent Namitjira. “For most of this century Quilty has been delivering urgent visions of our time in history. An unlikely activist, he wields paint to draw attention to our responsibility as critical citizens in an increasingly fraught world,” says Slade.
And in Ben’s own words: “My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance. Through it, I hope to push compassion to the forefront of national debate.”
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
Quilty: A Portrait combines a range of philanthropic focuses - the arts, Indigenous culture, the environment and human rights and social justice. Personally and artistically engaged with the issues that are most urgent in our society, Quilty is unflinching in his exploration of our darker instincts and issues of humanity. There is an sense of urgency and passion that he brings to the subjects of his artworks. . His works contains real stories that communicate to the very heart of human experience and emotion. It is the dexterity and rawness of his artwork that captures the his compassion for the human experience and translates it to the viewer. Hunter's film will do the same. Quilty: A Portrait places Ben Quilty as an Australian artist who is tackling issues of international concern.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
The aim of this film is to reset the focus on the painter rather than the activist although the two are entwined and that will be explored. At 45, Ben Quilty is possibly the best-known Australian artist of our generation but he has become better known for the many humanitarian causes he takes on.
The first major survey exhibition of Quilty’s work (opening at the Art Gallery of South Australia on 2 March 2019, followed by Brisbane and Sydney) is an opportunity to refocus on his art practice and how he transforms his passion into powerful pictures of the human condition. In fact, the installation of the exhibition by curator Lisa Slade and Ben will be integral to the telling of the story as we trace Ben’s first works through to his most recent, Irin Irinji, the powerful story of an Aboriginal massacre near APY Lands in South Australia where Quilty has formed strong bonds with the local community.
But the theme in this film will not so much be the subjects of his painting as much as the paintings themselves and the way they are made, cajoled, scrubbed out, destroyed and attacked. For Ben is the most physical of painters and once he dons his camouflage painting gear, he becomes totally immersed in his work and the music in the studio and this film will be witness to that process to which he has granted total access.
Its impact will be measured by the broadcast audience, the shorter films that can be made from the filming and can be used within the context of the travelling Quilty exhibition, and from downloads of the ATOM study guide and streaming into schools and universities.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
“My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance. Through it, I hope to push compassion to the forefront of national debate.”
By following Quilty's exhibition preparation, working with his subjects in the studio and in the field, this film will give very real insights to Quilty's artistic practice. His commitment to using paint as a medium to highlight contemporary social issues of significance reveal to the viewer some of the most urgent problems facing us as a society today - whether environmental, psychological or sociological.
In addition to potential broadcast on the ABC, the film will be accompanied by an education guide tailored to curriculum outlines for the arts/history/social studies and environment. My hope is that it would also become part of a series of arts documentaries which I would like to screen in regional areas.