Documentary on acclaimed artist Ben Quilty

Photo by Darryn McKay
Photo by Darryn McKay

A documentary on Australia artist Ben Quilty by Wentworth Falls film-maker Catherine Hunter is screening on ABC TV onTuesday, November 19 at 9.30pm.

Quilty - Painting the Shadows is a fascinating exploration of the creative process. It follows one of Australia's leading contemporary artists as he completes one of his most challenging art works.

The film documents the most recent shift in Quilty's art, which is a growing interest in our national history and the dark corners of our past.

With the permission of the Gamilaraay Elders, he travelled to Myall Creek in northern NSW. On the afternoon of Sunday, June 10, 1838, 12 stockmen brutally slaughtered a group of 28 Aboriginal men, women and children who were camped peacefully at the station of Myall Creek.

This massacre had special significance because it marked the only time in the colonial period that white men were arrested, charged and hanged for the massacre. The film follows Quilty's exploration of the subject over many months.

An artist with a profound commitment to social activism fuelled by a boundless curiosity about the human condition, Quilty won the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2009 and the Archibald Portrait Prize in 2011 with his remarkable portrait of Margaret Olley.

Later that year, he went to Afghanistan as an official war artist, commissioned by the Australian War Memorial. What followed was a remarkable series of portraits of the soldiers that addressed the emotional and psychological impact of their service.

Self portrait after Afghanistan

Self portrait after Afghanistan

In March 2019, an exhibition of Quilty's work opened at the Art Gallery of South Australia (later touring to Brisbane and Sydney).

Catherine Hunter, who first filmed Quilty more than 10 years ago, used the assembly and hanging of the exhibition as a fluid framework for her film.

She explored the journey of the artist from that of a young man obsessed with Holden Toranas to the one who brought, through his art, the full spectrum of the Afghanistan tragedy to public consciousness.

"When Ben agreed to me making a documentary this year, I decided I had to go and spend a couple of days in his studio in Mittagong to see how committed he really was to the film," Ms Hunter said.

"And to realise he was prepared to give me that commitment and time made me realise this was an incredible opportunity."

Without doubt, Quilty has received far more publicity than probably any other artist in Australia over the past few years, Ms Hunter said.

"But there has been little coverage of Ben working in the studio and the idea of following a painting from the beginning was always the driving force of this documentary."