At the ripe old age of 40, Sydney-born painter Ben Quilty – Australia’s answer to the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud – has situated himself as one of Australia’s most revered artists, and will now have the opportunity to cement his growing international reputation with the opening of his first UK solo show at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
In January of this year Quilty was awarded top prize at the inaugural Prudential Eye Awards in Singapore, earning himself the Saatchi Gallery solo exhibition as well as a further US$30,000 of prize money on top of the US$20,000 he won as the winner of the Prudential Eye Award for Painting.
Speaking about the exhibition, Nigel Hurst, CEO, Saatchi Gallery said: “The Saatchi Gallery is delighted to be able to host this exhibition and provide a showcase for recent work by renowned Australian artist Ben Quilty for the very first time. The show provides a wonderful opportunity to bring his unique and very individual Rorschach paintings and portraits to the attention of a new audience.”
On the day of the launch of his Saatchi Gallery exhibition, Quilty spoke about the exhibition, revealing the inspiration behind the works that for the basis of the exhibition.
Quilty said: “A lot of my work has been about ideas around colonialization – the identity of myself as an Australian. But the blood in my veins is Irish, really. So to come back here after five or six generations and hundreds of years to make this show here is a very special feeling.
Being a painter, most of my work is autobiographical. A lot of the works in this exhibition are about sites of Aboriginal massacre … the end of their culture, symbolically – the end of the dreamtime, their culture, often at the hands of pretty violent English colonial people.”
“I place myself in that history; I have been a willing participant in the colonialization of the country that I call my own … The works in this exhibition question white Australia and particularly the straight, white, male notion of the Australian identity.”
In addition to the expressive portraits and works from his “Rorschach” series that constitute the exhibition, all of which are executed in his signature richly impastoed, highly gestural style, Quilty has created a bespoke work inspired by the exhibition space, painted directly onto the walls of the Saatchi Gallery.
Accepting his Prudential Eye award in January, Quilty said: “As an Australian artist I am aware of how remote Australia is in the sense that we have European heritage and yet are very much remote from Europe. We struggle to define our identity and thus we create barriers, yet we are geographically bang in the middle of South East Asia. This is an important prize that is about positively enriching that cross cultural bond.”
“Ben Quilty” is at the Saatchi Gallery, London until August 3. More info here.