TIM ROSS reflects on Australian artist BEN QUILTY and the road that led to Quilty featuring as part of Ross’ podcast series Constant.
I still vividly remember seeing one of Ben Quilty’s Torana paintings for the first time in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was sitting at my desk, contemplating some work and it reached off the page and slapped me in the face.
I was immediately taken back to my late teens and a day spent careening around with a mate in his white Torana. Suddenly the brakes failed, we became airborne and ended up wrapped around a tree. It was a time when everything was about mateship and I found myself feeling forced into situations and behaviour that was expected of young men in this country.
Quilty’s Torana series remain a reflection of that time in my life; they also remind me that I had found my way out.
I finally met Ben a few years back when I went with a friend in the music industry to see an artist talk at an event. Afterwards Ben and my friend ended talking up a storm side of stage and I presumed they were old mates catching up. They weren’t, they both just loved a chat. It’s an endearing trait that has helped Ben connect with people beyond his art.
We reconnected again in 2017 when I staged a show called The Mid Century Project. The Brisbane show was performed in a Brutalist carpark, where we took over the tunnel leading to a train station and turned it into a temporary theatre. Throughout the carpark we had a series of projections and installations from the artists Paul Davies, Stephen Ormandy and Sam Cranstoun. (For the Melbourne version in the Modernist skyscraper ICI House, we commissioned art works from Miranda Skozec and Bec Smith.)
I had an idea for a video work and found a rather bizarre old semi-psychedelic 1960s car dealer television commercial. We reimagined the jingle and added photos of the late Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen holding a gun. The concept looked at how we view the past through rose-coloured glasses, how nostalgia can overshadow reality. It was subtitled Nostalgia gets a visit from an old ghost.
My mind wandered to those early Torana paintings and I thought that they would make an excellent insert. I reached out to Ben and asked to use an image of one of his paintings and he instantly said yes. It was a moment of generosity that I will never forget.
Constant is a five-part podcast series presented by design enthusiast Tim Ross in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia.