Understanding my art.

I’m not going to make this my manifesto (I’ll leave that for another day). I just felt the need to address something. Now I know that not everyone knows something about art, more specifically painting; in my case. People who aren’t “in the know” always tend to look for something in my work, something representational that is. They always tend to point out a face, or some kind of figurative form that may have accidentally appeared through the paint. Now that’s fair enough, you might see something that looks like a face or a hand, but it was not my intention to put that in there. Using my current “Port Kembla” series as an example I would like to explain my work a little bit so as to generate a level of understanding.

 

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View from the suburb, 2012, oil on canvas, 33 x 33 cm (framed).

 

The work above is from a series of works that I have based on the suburb in which I have grown up and lived in. The works are predominately abstract, though they have some representational features; features that may look like something in the real world or are based on something from the real world. Even the titles suggest representation. However, I have intentionally abstracted the works to give an impression of the suburb in which I have lived for all of my life thus far. 

 

Why? Was a favourite question from one of my painting teachers at art school, I am now pretending that I am facing her once again and answering her questions. Why did I choose to paint Port Kembla? Well because thus far, the majority of art; whose subject matter is imagery from Port Kembla, has tended to feature the Steelworks or the beach as their major subjects. I however, am using the suburb itself as the subject matter, the roads, the houses, the rooftops, colours, shapes and forms that I come across everyday. They’re the fuel to my creative fire. Now you may ask why do you paint the way you do? I paint in this particular way because it is a style/technique of painting I adopted some years ago and haven’t really looked back since. I have developed and crafted my approach to painting for seven years now, using predominantly oil paint and palette knife when working on canvas. As for some of my other works; works on paper and in acrylic, I do use brushes and drawing materials, but I use them in such a way as to reference my use of the palette knife. For me the palette knife allows me to apply large swabs of paint to the canvas, work and rework it, remove what I don’t need or to create a particular effect. The act of dragging and moving the paint across the canvas gives me a particular feeling, it’s almost indescribable, but it offers me something that brushes can’t in some circumstances. Going back to the works on paper, I work on them to discover new possibilities, and sometimes these potential outcomes transfer into my painting and sometimes vice versa. 

 

Moving on briefly to who inspires me as a painter, now the list should I make it a full compilation of every artist and why they influence me would be way too long for this post.

 

Ben Quilty, Nicholas Harding, Jun Chen, Frank Auerbach, Peter Booth, Paul Ryan. All for their application and handling of paint, they don’t necessarily paint the same subject matter, however they share similarities in their approach to painting. Though the likes of Ben Quilty, Auerbach, Ryan and Harding do depict their surroundings, the places that they live. However, with the exception of Auerbach, they depict their surroundings in a representational manner, which I admire greatly. My hat is off to these gentlemen.

 

So in conclusion I hope that this little incoherent rant makes some kind of sense to anyone who is bothered to read it. I do hope to write something a little more formal and academic sometime soon, however I think that this will suffice for now. I hope you enjoyed and read and enjoy my work and please remember to show your support by liking my artists page on Facebook, as well as following me on Twitter and Instagram (linked below), as well as subscribing to this blog.

 

Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan

Walking through the grounds of the National Art School you are immediately struck by the history contained within its historic walls. Once a prison for convicts, became the venue for one of the most prestigious and best known art schools in Australia and the world. Some of Australia’s best known artists have spent time studying and creating within its walls. And now, this venue hosts an exhibition of works by one of Australia’s most talented and recognised established painters, Ben Quilty.

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After Afghanistan is a survey of works the artist has painted upon his return from his stint as an Official War Artist deployed with troops serving in Afghanistan. These works do not depict their subjects as the romanticized digger of the past, the good natured larrikin. These works expose the effect of war on the young men and woman that serve in the armed forces, their experiences, thoughts, feelings and emotions have been transcribed in the luscious painting style Quilty is most famous for. It is interesting that the majority of the exhibition is of portraits, even the paintings of the destroyed vehicles can be considered as portraits, even if in a metaphorical sense. The two vehicle paintings “Hilux” and “Bushmaster” both depict the burnout, crumpled wrecks of armoured personnel vehicles that were employed by Australian troops.

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These metaphorical paintings (“Bushmaster” above) act as a powerful visual metaphor for the destruction and carnage that a war can have. Although the portraits of the soldiers act as visual representations of the emotional and psychological impact of war, they don’t display any overt signs of physical injury. The two aforementioned works are metaphors for the physical impact of war. One can imagine if these armoured machines can be disabled with such ease then what chance does a man or woman have against contemporary weapons?

Most of the works subjects are male, there is one portrait, “Captain Kate Porter, after Afghanistan”, that depicts a young female soldier. The blurb next to the work provides the viewer with a small background and insight into the work and its subject. We are told about Captain Kate Porter, a young officer who not only fights for her country as a soldier, but represents her country as a rugby union player. The stereotypical mould is smashed, we are presented with a strong, young and healthy person. However, when we look at the portrait of her (below) we see a more vulnerable young woman. Sitting, arms crossed, naked. When we see images of soldiers they are usually kitted up in armour and weapons, we are presented with a formidable image. This work shows us just how vulnerable a person can be, and how much of an impact war has on a person. We are presented with a fleshy, tired, depressed and vulnerable person who you would initially assume was a strong, arse kicking, gun toting soldier.

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The stereotype has been smashed! We now understand that she, and the other soldiers represented here in paint are human, like me or you. Except that they have assumed the greatest responsibility and have made the greatest sacrifices so that we can live here and not worry about war and terrorism coming to our shores.

Quilty’s approach to painting these works reminds us that the human subjects are that, they are human. Flesh and bone. Full of feelings, fears and anxieties. All now amplified by their experiences as Australian soldiers serving to protect Australia and its people. We are made aware of and presented with the negative impact of war, rather than the popular romantic representations of soldiers who have experienced hell.

Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan
21 February – 13 April
On display at the National Art School
Forbes Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney.