South Australia's Art Gallery Unveils Ben Quilty Masterpiece

South Australia's Art Gallery Unveils Ben Quilty Masterpiece
“Evening shadows, Rorschach after Johnstone, 2011” by Ben Quilty
(Courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia)

The Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) has unveiled their latest acquisition, a stunning painting by renowned Australian artist Ben Quilty that the artist gifted to the Gallery to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the their Contemporary Collectors benefaction group.

Commenting on the acquisition, Director of the AGSA, Nick Mitzevich, said:  “A leading artist of our time, Ben Quilty has taken one of the Gallery’s icons and given it a 21st century twist. Evening Shadows by H.J. Johnstone has been remade on a colossal scale using Quilty’s now famed Rorschach technique.

“One of the largest works ever made by the artist, the painting has been gifted by him to mark the 10th anniversary of the Art Gallery’s Contemporary Collectors, the benefaction group who supported the acquisition of Quilty’s major installation ‘Inhabit’ in 2011,” Mitzevich continued.

The eight panel, seven metre long landscape painting titled “Evening shadows, Rorschach after Johnstone, 2011” is the artist’s response to the ever-evolving narrative of Australia’s relationship with, and perception of the land.  At once both an emotional reaction to the Australian landscape and an intellectual elucidation of Australia’s landscape painting heritage, “Evening Shadows, Rorschach” reinvigorates and reanimates the artist-landscape dialogue that has been a defining characteristic of Australian art history.

Quilty’s fecund fabrication is not only the fruit of an existing interpretation of the landscape but has itself undergone a process of replication as a result of the Rorschach process. Using H. J. Johnstone’s 1880 painting “Evening shadows, backwater of the Murray, South Australia” as inspiration, Quilty has reimagined and reinvented Johnstone’s serene river scene using a technique inspired by the Rorschach test, a method of psychological evaluation based on a patient’s perception of ambiguous, meaningless inkblots that have been folded over on themselves to create a mirror image.

Creating a painting using the Rorschach process involves a pattern of creation, destruction, and re-creation whereby a clean canvas is pressed onto a canvas loaded with impasto paint to create a mirror image. The process is repeated numerous times, requiring meticulous control of paint, colour and composition. According to AGSA Project Curator Lisa Slade, “this pattern of creation, destruction and re-creation finds its parallel in the themes that recur in Quilty’s oeuvre, which has dealt with the rites and rituals of masculinity and nationhood.”

The spectacularly beautiful painting is a reflection of Quilty’s incredible talent for translating thoughts and feelings into a unique visual language that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging.  Through his utilisation of the Rorschach technique, Quilty adds another dimension to his work in the form of an invitation to the viewer to connect with the imagery and develop their own interpretation of the painting.

Ben Quilty’s “Evening shadows, Rorschach after Johnstone, 2011” is currently on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia.