Rich cultural experiences have coloured the travels of this master painter. Three places in particular have touched his art and soul.
Paris is my favourite city; it’s my cultural heart and the first place I lived as a full-time artist. I won a Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, which meant a three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in the Marais, with money coming into my account every month. It was complete creative freedom. I’ve been going to Paris ever since.
I love how the French people craft their life around living. The entire city shuts down at lunchtime and children go home from school to have lunch with their families.
It makes the French people very learned, family-based and resilient. That first visit was when I really sensed how important culture was to that community. Artists and art materials have incredible tax concessions and France also encourages artists from around the world to go there. A healthy cultural sector builds a healthy society and that was an empowering thing for a young man from the outskirts of Sydney to discover.
2005: Katherine, NT
Every winter, my wife, Kylie, our two children and I go to Katherine to spend time with my brother, Simon – he’s a doctor there – and my sister-in-law, Phoebe, who runs a fabulous little place called The Finch Cafe. I designed the sign for them. (My family puts up with my wonky lines.) Every time I go there I’m struck by the richness of the experience. People who have never spent time in an Aboriginal community or on a sacred site don’t know what they’re missing. They don’t realise that is what makes Australia different to the rest of the world. You need to go somewhere like that to get a sense of the complexities of the issues and realise how proud we can be of the country we live in and the people who inhabit it. Sitting under an overhang, looking at paintings that are thousands of years old, is the most spiritual experience I’ve had in my life.
I was in Afghanistan for a month as the Australian War Memorial’s official war artist. Although you live under a feeling of dread most of the time, it’s one of the most physically beautiful places I’ve been. The landscape is extraordinary. To get out onto the dusty tarmac at Tarin Kowt and look out at this enormous, vivid mauve mountain range with snow on top in the middle of summer took my breath away. The valleys with water from ancient Roman aqueducts, surrounded by mountains that are uninhabitable except for men moving their herds of goats from one valley to the next – I’ll never, ever forget it. The local people were so humble and hospitable but the whole place is shrouded in this dangerous darkness of human conflict. It made me think of the humans who brought tragedy to this astonishingly beautiful place. ￼
Ben Quilty is preparing for his exhibition, The Stain, opening in June at Melbourne’s Tolarno Galleries.