After Afghanistan

One of the reasons we went to the Australian War Memorial last week was to see the current exhibition of paintings by Ben Quilty, an official war artist who went to Afghanistan in 2011. To quote from the AWM website “Quilty has created large-scale portraits that focus on the intense physicality of these soldiers and on the emotional and psychological consequences of their service.”

After Afghanistan

After Afghanistan

These works display Quilty’s characteristic large slashes of paint and this completely ‘works’ with the intensity of his subject matter.

Three portraits of Air Commodore John Oddie, Ben Quilty

Three portraits of Air Commodore John Oddie, Ben Quilty

What is quite unusual is that Quilty asked the men and women who sat for their portraits to pose naked, to show what the body is like after it is stripped of its uniform and body armour. They were also asked “to select a pose that reflected an aspect of his or her experience. Some of them drew on an actual event from their deployment, others on the tiredness or the emotions they felt after their return to Australia”. The results are dramatic and almost emotionally too intimate in their outcome.

Trooper M, After Afghanistan, Ben Quilty

Trooper M, After Afghanistan, Ben Quilty

Given the intensity of these works it came as some relief to be able to step backwards and look at some of the sketches that Quilty made during his actual time in Afghanistan, including these two.

Ben Quilty, sketches made in Afghanistan

Ben Quilty, sketches made in Afghanistan

As a sketcher I’m always interested in seeing what other artists draw. I also think that these straightforward works are a great tonic for many people I meet who, when starting to sketch, are overcome by the feeling that their drawings aren’t ‘good enough’ and are consequently of little value. Quilty shows that drawings don’t have to be massively refined to be effective. It’s enough to capture what is of interest to you.

PS please excuse the poor colour quality, as these were taken without flash. More colour-accurate versions of this exhibition can be found at Ben Quilty’s website.

 

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