PAT, 2004

Important Australian + International Fine Art
14 September 2022


born 1973
PAT, 2004

oil on canvas

130.0 x 100.0 cm

signed, dated and inscribed with title verso: ‘PAT’ / 04 / Ben Quilty

$100,000 – $140,000
Sold for $128,864 (inc. BP) in Auction 71 - 14 September 2022, Sydney

Private collection, Sydney, acquired directly from the artist

Catalogue text

Ben Quilty is undeniably one of Australia’s most well-known contemporary artists, his face frequently gracing our television screens in the guise of spokesperson-painter and cultural commentator. Part of the appeal of the artist’s work, and of Quilty himself, is accessibility – the immediacy of the way in which both art and artist communicate. The outer-suburban environment in which Quilty grew up, and the rites of passage of young men in this milieu – drinking, fast cars, larrikinism, and risk taking – fuel his early work, and we can relate to his lusciously painted canvases as easily as we can sing the lyrics of Cold Chisel’s ‘Khe Sanh’. Yet from the outset, Quilty’s work has unflinchingly explored masculine aggression, and the way in which Australian males work to define themselves as ‘Australian’1, along with mortality, and the stains of our colonial legacy. As Nick Mitzevitch has noted, the means of communication may be deceptively straightforward, but the message is not:

‘We rarely encounter an artist whose work combines such broad appeal and such a starling, singular vision. Quilty’s paintings possess an extraordinary presence: he achieves such delicious, inviting and seductive experiences in paint that the paint surface appears as if ‘live’. But, if we step back from the tour de force of the paint surface, if we marshal the image into focus, we see that Quilty also unflinchingly investigates our culture and history.’2

Quilty first exhibited his budgerigar images in 2004 in his solo exhibition Young and Free?3, using the phrase from Australia’s national anthem (which was officially changed to ‘one and free’ on 1 January 2021) to point to the complex bundle of issues surrounding nationalism and identity that this jaunty native bird encapsulated in his paintings. As he has observed, domestic budgies are ‘far from their native form – both geographically and physically’ and are ‘a fitting representation of the way white Australian society has claimed its own identity.’4 The budgerigar’s ability to mimic human speech also highlights the role of adaptation and change in the conscious construction of any ‘new’ persona.

Fittingly, Quilty’s budgies were conceived as portraits of real-life human subjects, captured in ‘mug-shot style’.5 In PAT, 2004 the blocky form is built up of slabs of green and gold paint, trowelled onto the surface of the canvas in sweeping, confident arcs. Although at rest and clearly clinging to his perch, the possibility of flight (and escape?) is captured in the zig zag-like marks on the bird’s wing, creating an uneasy tension between repose and animation. The painting exudes a love of the medium of paint and the act of painting, best summed up by the artist himself: ‘For me the most exciting thing is that incredible energy that comes about when you start to try and find something new. And painting, the whole act of it – putting one tiny, tiny, tiny bit of colour into this huge, big expansive mass of thick paint can be an incredible feeling and can leave me for a week on a high.’6

1. ‘Ben Quilty in Conversation with Lisa Slade’, University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, 2009,, accessed 13 July 2022
2. Mitzevitch, N., ‘Foreword’, Ben Quilty, The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, 2009, p. 11
3. Ben Quilty: Young and Free?, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane, 2004
4. Quilty cited in Slade, L., ‘Ben Quilty: We Are History’, Ben Quilty, 2009, p. 24
5. Ibid.
6. ‘Ben Quilty and the Maggots’, Artscape, ABC Arts, 2011,, accessed 13 July 2022