Ben Quilty was born in Sydney, Australia in 1973. Quilty completed his Bachelor of Visual Arts, majoring in painting at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney in 1994. He later went on to receive a certificate in Aboriginal Culture and History from Monash University in 1996, a Bachelor of Visual Communication at the University of Western Sydney in 2001, and an Honorary Doctorate of Creative Arts at the University of Western Sydney in 2015.
Quilty grew up in the outer suburbs of northwestern Sydney, where he typified the self-destructive characteristics of Australian masculinity: drugs, alcohol, and recklessness. Quilty was a willing participant in this risk-taking and destructive behaviour, but always questioned it. It was this period of his life that inspired most of his work today. Images such as skulls, snakes, and grotesque Siamese-twin compositions have since been seen in his paintings, creating a dark and uncanny genre across the majority of his artworks.
Quilty’s painting style can be recognised from his thick layering of paint. He uses different types of palette knives, smearing the paint to create his figures. Quilty does not attempt to hide the strokes from his knife, rather he utilises the thick slabs of paint to block in large areas of the canvas with high contrast colours. He works fast and audiences can see each brushstroke, which gives a three-dimensional appearance and adds another element to his work. His paintings are said to “challenge assumptions” with the bold and unsettling objects which he depicts in his paintings.
Ben Quilty has been widely recognised for his work. Quilty’s paintings of his Holden Torana produced a sell-out show in 2002 and since then his work has been seen in many exhibitions and art fairs. Some of his work can be seen at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Quilty won the Doug Moran Portrait Prize in 2009 for his painting of Jimmy Barnes, There but for the Grace of God Go I, no. 2. In the same year, Quilty was named runner-up for the Archibald Prize for the same portrait. He then won the Archibald Prize two years later for his portrait of Margaret Olley. In 2014, he received the top award at the inaugural Prudential Eye Awards in Singapore for his painting Smashed Rorschach.
His recent solo exhibitions include The Stain, Tolarno Galleries Melbourne, Australia (2016); Straight White Male, Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong (2015); Ben Quilty, Galerie Allen, Paris, France (2014); Ben Quilty, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK (2014); Drawing: Ben Quilty Solo Exhibition, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, Australia (2014); The Fiji Wedding: Ben Quilty Solo Exhibition, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, Australia (2013); and My Brothers and Other Paintings: Ben Quilty Solo Exhibition, Jan Murphy Gallery, Adelaide, Australia (2012).
Other major solo exhibitions include Critical Impact, GRANTPIRRIE, Melbourne (2009); Smashed, GRANTPIRRIE, Sydney (2008); and Young and Free?, Jan Murphy Gallery, Sydney (2004).