Painting is a private activity. The painter is like a sponge: they absorb emotions out in the world and, in the privacy of their studio, express them on canvas, with the hope that someone will receive them, connect with them, and create an experience. Catherine Hunter’s new film documentary opens a window into Ben Quilty’s painting process. In recording the artistic process, Hunter makes art herself.

Quilty: Painting the Shadows does many things at once.

First, it paints the picture of a man intent in figuring out the world. Quilty comes across in all of his complexities: as an artist who succeeded despite having picked the wrong medium, as a man grappling with ego and self-doubt, as a self-involved justice warrior, and as man who hopes and fights for a better future.

Second, Quilty: Painting the Shadows tells a story of how White Australia can approach reconciliation with Indigenous people in a constructive way. Part of the documentary focuses on the process of Quilty asking Indigenous people and receiving permission from Aunt Sue Blacklock to paint the landscapes of the massacre of Indigenous people at Myall Creek. As the Indigenous resistance movement reminds us, White Australia has a Black history and Australia can move forward only by recognising this.

Third, the documentary is well-crafted, with beautiful frames of rural Australia, intimate conversations with the artist, and a pleasant thematic narrative. It is didactic in its aesthetics.

The Brisbane International Film Festival hosted the screening at GOMA and also offered the public the opportunity to ask questions to the director, Catherine Hunter. Following the screening and Q&A, GoMA has organised an open-late viewing of Quilty’s exhibition, which concluded a thought provoking Saturday in Brisbane.  

Quilty: Painting the Shadows will be screened on ABC TV, on 19 November at 9.30pm. 

Feature Image: Ben Quilty, Australia, born 1973, Irin Irinji, 2018, Southern Highlands, New South Wales, oil on linen, twelve panels; Gift of the Art Gallery of South Australia Contemporary Collectors, Jane and John Ayers, Lipman Karas and Tracey Whiting 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Courtesy the artist.