In October 2011, Ben Quilty is commissioned by the Australian War Memorial as an official war artist to share the everyday life of Australian Defense Force part of the Operation Slipper.
The masculinity, the mortality and the national identity have always inspired the Australian artist’s work, which makes him the perfect candidate to work on the Australian War Memorial project. To Ben Quilty, whose worst fear since he was a kid, has been to become a wartime soldier, this project sounds like a safety opportunity to discover the backstage of this terrifying world.
During an immersion of three weeks in Afghanistan, he is not only the witness of the Australian servicemen and woman experience but he is also their confidant. Back from Afghanistan, Ben Quilty explores their stories through portraits, figurative objects, still life and landscapes. Dressed in his white overalls and his gas mask over his face, he is ready to paint. He works fast and the result always has a three-dimensional appearance, which gives life to his paintings.
He focuses on the strong physicality of these soldiers but also on the emotional and psychological impact of the war. To reveal both the fragility and the strength of the soldiers, the artist asks them to sit naked for their portrait, without any armour, and to select a pose that express their own vision of the war experience. Ben Quilty also asks them to face the sun with the eyes closed, then to open them and gaze at the light. By doing so, the artist wants to ‘symbolize what they are facing, something immense, overwhelming’.