Ben Quilty: The Last Supper

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In recent years Ben Quilty’s profile has been elevated with his human rights advocacy, notably for Myuran Sukumaran who was killed by firing squad for his role in drug trafficking in Indonesia. Quilty’s paintings have always explored social concerns in a gutsy way. His impastoed excursions on these themes (and more) contrast the pleasures of colourful and thickly layered paint with emotionally loaded issues. Their power has seen his work become highly sought after.

Last year, Quilty’s interest in the international refugee crisis saw him travel to Greece, Serbia and Lebanon with World Vision Australia where he witnessed the trauma, dysfunction and disease caused by global unrest. As a result, this exhibition, titled The Last Supper, features a double edge of pessimism and rebirth. Quilty ponders, in painterly terms alone, the confronting state of the world and humanity today.

In contrast to his profile as a media talent in recent years, in this work, he suggests, “Painting for me is the most direct way of making a statement… The title of the show suggests a gathering of leaders and philosophers, terrorists and generals, obfuscating their responsibilities to the planet and to its people.”

The paintings generated along these lines are abstracted mutations of the human head, akin in their angst-ridden psychic pain to work by Australian surrealist James Gleeson. There is a violence implied here – an unspeakable angst – with the work a psychic outpouring concerning a seemingly insoluble problem. Quilty told Art Guide Australia, “I’ve been trying to distill the psychosis of the world into paintings, without leaving my studio… I’ve been working with live models, from all parts of the human condition, very young and very old, male, female, disabled and myself. There is a violence in the process… The works aren’t obvious, but there are passages of figuration that I hope suggest parables about the self-indulgent madness of contemporary societies.”

Their depiction of a world in extremis makes the point with palpable force.

The Last Supper
Ben Quilty
Jan Murphy Gallery
27 May – 17 June

Louise Martin-Chew