Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2022


born 1973

oil on canvas

40.5 x 45.5 cm

signed, dated and inscribed with title verso: Red XB Study / 2006 Ben Quilty

$35,000 – $45,000
Sold for $67,500 (inc. BP) in Auction 69 - 4 May 2022, Sydney

Private collection, Sydney, acquired directly from the artist 
Annette Larkin Fine Art, Sydney 
Private collection, New South Wales, acquired from the above in 2017


Autumn 2017 - Part II, Annette Larkin Fine Art, Sydney, 8 - 29 April 2017, cat. 1

Catalogue text

Ben Quilty’s friend and assistant director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Lisa Slade, noted in her 2009 survey exhibition of his work: ‘Cars are, of course, a type of currency – not only do they reflect the identity of their owners, but they also provide a means of bartering, and sometimes altering that identity.’1 The visual symbol of a second-hand muscle car has been a relatable prism through which a generation of suburban Australians have experienced and acted upon the landscape. Ben Quilty, keen to depict objects, people and landscapes that also function as social commentary, has endowed the prized Ford cars with gravitas beyond their shiny surfaces. The old maxim of ‘paint what you know’ has served Quilty well and has sustained his enduring series of candy-coloured and lusciously thick paintings of iconic Australian cars.

Red XB Study, 2006 is a quintessential Quilty oil paint and aerosol study of the artist’s dream car. It is closely related to several works of the same subject and same name, all painted with Quilty’s idiosyncratic vigorous style, combining thick impasto strokes and slabs underpinned by spray-painted armatures and outlines. As Quilty has explained: ‘Most of my work investigates the relationship between a luscious surface and the darker and more confronting nature of the overall image. I enjoy the theatrics of forcing the viewer to move back from the enticing surface to see the more figurative imagery hidden in the paint.’2 The vigour and aggression of his painting technique mirrors and emphasises his thematic content, equating it with the recklessness of youthful hooning and macho posturing.

The abstract landscape in which this car is placed is sketched out with cursory marks of pink spray paint, appearing again in the larger related works, Red XB and Red XB II. Quilty’s use of spray paint underpainting and overpainting began in 2006 following a residency in Barcelona through the Australia Council for the Arts. Soon it extended beyond the canvas, continuing the painted scene on the surrounding walls, and linking previously unrelated singular works into vast metamorphic sequences. What we see in Red XB Study is a palimpsest of its wider context which, on the walls of Quilty’s studio, included a row of suburban houses and front gates, with a footpath receding into the distance. The cross hatching of the gate that runs along the bonnet of the car is present in all these Red XB works, to varying degrees of painterly abstraction. 

With a saturated scarlet hue, the eponymous Red XB surges towards the viewer, barely contained by the tight edges of its stretched canvas, and steel frame. As opposed to other Quilty cars and vans, this Red XB model of the muscle car needn’t pop its hood in a gaudy display of power, not is it described by the artist as a landscape. Its simple design alone is a compelling subject, and the artist delights in the sensual pursuit of the act of painting it in sweeping and paint-laden gestures of its forms, stark against a pared-back landscape.

1. Slade, L., ‘Ben Quilty – We are History’, Ben Quilty Live!, University of Queensland, Brisbane, 2009, p. 22
2. correspondence between Lisa Slade and Ben Quilty, January 2008, MCA Collection Handbook [] (accessed 4/4/22)