Documentary to tackle Australia's dark history

A fascinating exploration of the creative process, 'Quilty -Painting the Shadows', follows one of Australia's leading contemporary artists as he completes one of his most challenging art works.

The film documents the most recent shift in Quilty's art which is a growing interest in our national history and the dark corners of our past.

With the permission of the Gamilaraay Elders, he travels to Myall Creek in Northern NSW.

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 10, 1838, 12 stockmen brutally slaughtered a group of 28 Aboriginal men, women and children who were camped peacefully at the station of Myall Creek.

This massacre had special significance because it marked the only time in the colonial period that white men were, arrested, charged and hung for the massacre.

The film follows Quilty's exploration of the subject over many months.

"I am looking for symbols of the beauty of the place, the sadness of the place, the incredible violence of this place," Ben Quilty said.

An artist with a profound commitment to social activism fuelled by a boundless curiosity about the human condition, Quilty won the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2009 and the Archibald Portrait Prize in 2011 with his remarkable portrait of Margaret Olley.

In March 2019, a survey exhibition of Quilty's work opened at the Art Gallery of South Australia (later touring to Brisbane and Sydney).

Using the assembly and hanging of the exhibition as a fluid framework for her film, director Catherine Hunter explores the journey of the artist from that of a young man obsessed with Holden Toranas to the one who brought, through his art, the full spectrum of the Afghanistan tragedy to public consciousness.

But his career to date has been kaleidoscopic - while people are aware of certain facets of his life and causes, there has been little attempt to understand him as a painter.

This film seeks to bring the fractured portrait of the man and the painter into sharper view.

For Ben Quilty is fundamentally a painter, someone who is singularly engaged with the physical challenges of making visual art, as well as the emotional power of texture and colour.

The central focus of the film is Quilty's artistic practice and he has granted Hunter unprecedented access to his process.

'Quilty - Painting the Shadows' follows the making of a major work about the Myall Creek massacre over a number of months from its beginnings as a series of drawings to the creation of one of his signature Rorschach paintings (where an original painted image is both damaged and duplicated by pressing one panel onto another while the paint is still wet).

"I'm interested in the fact that it's the landscape that he submits to the process of Rorschaching, if that's a word," Art Gallery of South Australia assistant director Lisa Slade said.

"It's actually the landscape that he paints and then destroys and in doing so, he moves landscapes as a genre into history painting. He invites us to think about how we are positioned within that story.

"Just as Hermann Rorschach would invite his interviewees to look at the ink blot test, Ben Quilty invites us into his paintings to find ourselves to intuit what's going on, to make meaning with what's happening in the painting."

APY Executive Board Council chairperson Sally Scales says in the film: "There's a way to learn history through art, there's a way to have conversations about devastation through art and that's what Ben does so beautifully."

The documentary is directed by Catherine Hunter and produced by Shelley Maine and Catherine Hunter with cinematography by Bruce Inglis.