A body of work by Ben Quilty made in the lead up to the last American Presidential election, and then continued through recent pandemic times and lockdown.
During that time, he was given a book by the American Realist painter, George Bellows, and it has not left his studio since. Bellow’s paintings of men boxing illegally in early 20th century fight clubs was the starting point for this exhibition. Taking multiple screen shots of UFC fighters locked in deadly and bloody combat, and hosting a team of local boxers, Quilty posed questions about contemporary humanity.
In 1913 boxing was illegal in New York State and the ruling men believed boxing would never be a part of a sophisticated contemporary society. But now, taking the most basic rules away from boxing we are left with UFC and pondering our blood thirsty, ultra-violent return to Roman times, without the social order.
Named after famous beaches around Australia, the fighting men also evoke memories of the Cronulla Riots and continue Quilty’s exploration of Australian cultural identity and the darker sides of Island Life.
“To make paintings of men punching the life out of each other feels like an apt response to being alive in 2021,” Quilty says.
Image: BEN QUILTY The Crowd 2021, oil on linen, 180 x 202 cm
An exhibition of new works from Ben Quilty.
Through Quilty’s ominous and heterogeneous approach in 150 years each work invites us to participate in a critical discussion. The same Quilty who explored the spiritual hollowness of contemporary masculinity in paintings of passed-out mates is present here, yet these themes are refracted through the decades since, through experience, a global and pervasive uncertainty, and a tangible level of disillusionment. In an age of authoritarian revival, Quilty’s decades-long interrogation of masculinity is gaining momentum.
Recently dubbed a ‘critical citizen’ by curator Lisa Slade, Quilty’s new work at Tolarno more explicitly depicts a self- critical citizen. In this case Self may not necessarily connote oneself, but one’s milieu, an individual splattered, dispersed throughout their socio-cultural plane. The artist – as well as a few family members and friends – are present in the landscape of the Rorschach, in the abstract works, and of course in Santa himself.
Image: Ben Quilty After the Pink Dress (Self Portrait) 2019, oil on linen, 265 x 202 cm
Notes on Chaos
Trump tweets, North Korean missile launches, global terrorism, vengeful weather, disruptive economies and Middle East instability: it feels like the rug has been pulled from under us. How do we respond to a world upside down, a place of crumbling sureties? Ben Quilty’s new work expresses the uneasiness of a society anxious about the future through the lens of personal experience – Michael Desmond, 2018