Ben Quilty’s captivating painting, Australian Landscape #4, is a masterful example of the artist’s bold, career-defining early works.
Quilty has referred to the paintings of this period as being about young men looking for initiation. He uses Australia as his subject matter and young men for artistic inspiration. This pivotal series investigates the male human’s obsessive, unending love affair with the car. As Germaine Greer has written, ‘Ben Quilty’s car paintings are not a childish obsession. They depict the self-destructive urges that lie at the heart of young men.’1
While masculine in its subject and vigorous manner of execution, the colour palette of Australian Landscape #4 balances the work somewhat with its soft feminine colours of blush pinks and sage greens. Here, vast swathes of paint have been boldly applied with Quilty’s characteristic verve. His love affair with the medium itself is so evident in this magnificent example from the artist’s highly desirable car / ‘landscape’ period.
1 Germaine Greer, ‘School Boy Doodles?’, The Guardian, UK, 26th October 2009
Ben Quilty recalls he conceived this painting as something of a mask – a Captain Cook mask the artist himself could put on to imagine the world through the eyes of the famous 18th century explorer. Having read extensively through Cook’s diaries, Quilty became fascinated by the man’s initial self belief, an attitude that doubtless contributed to him becoming one of maritime history’s most famous navigators, astronomers and sailors. With the passage of time however, Quilty observed violent changes in Cook’s behaviour toward both his crew and the native populations he encountered.
Cook’s bouts of extreme violence, Quilty along with others postulates, was due in large part to debilitating and personality changing gut conditions, the result of chronic disease. In analysing this change the artist states that ‘Mask’ looks at ‘…the good, the bad and the ugly’. The rorschach technique employed is perfect, providing a multiple image which delves into the human psyche, a reflection and investigation of James Cook the man, and his changing psychological states.