Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 August 2015


born 1973

oil on canvas

130.0 x 140.0 cm

signed, dated and inscribed verso: Skullburger / Ben Quilty 06 inscribed verso: Aerosol and oil / on canvas

$30,000 - 40,000
Sold for $43,920 (inc. BP) in Auction 40 - 26 August 2015, Sydney

Grantpirrie, Sydney 
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

At a time in their lives when many young white males are staggering their way through perceived rites of passage, artist Ben Quilty turned a mirror on himself and his friends. In doing so he geared his paintings towards exploring their reckless adolescent rituals. 

In his early works Holden Toranas (fast cheap cars purpose-built for the Bathurst race track) burst from a halo of aerosol spray paint and became the central subject to Quilty's search for targets that represented the emblems of youthful male recklessness. Later Quilty's fanged Kombi vans began to chew their way across his canvasses, cars sprouted antlers in a nod to the American rural tradition of blooding young males on booze-fuelled hunting trips. Culminating in a boy shooting his first deer, the blood of the deer is smeared onto the face of the boy, thereby symbolising his crossover into manhood. 

The Australian parallel, however, is more laid back and involves alcohol, fast cars and risk-taking actions as young men encourage and push each other closer to the point where common sense dissipates and testosterone takes over. 

As Jacqueline Millner puts it '... his images that draw on the antisocial 'rites of passage' of a particular Australian masculinity capture the pathos of trying to prove oneself through courting self destruction from the perspective of an empathetic insider. It is an empathy underscored by the artist's subtle self-deprecation, relayed in his humble use of what is at hand and close to home.'1

The depictions of his friends lying around in various states of inebriation gradually gave way to new everyday subjects that Quilty could also use to explore this state of hormonally driven reckless abandon. Enter the hamburger, the traditional fast food accompaniment to a boy's big night out, and perhaps a symbol of youthful disregard for wholesome values.

Quilty began using images of the fast food icon in sculpture, photography and painting in the mid-2000s. In Skullburger, 2006, the emblem of the burger is enmeshed with the human skull - the ancient symbol of mortality. In this 'Yorick meets Warhol' moment Quilty presents an image that combines the fast food icon with a symbol of mortality to create a seemingly innocuous work that alludes to risk and danger. 

Ben Quilty's paintings ooze paint as well as metaphor, his adopted technique of applying thick paint in broad swathes using kitchen utensils creates a fleshy sculpted surface that demands to be looked at, and in itself parallels the youthful bravado his paintings aim to depict. His use of colour is generally supplemented with white, which adds bulk and creates a harmonising hypnotic effect that belies the artwork's more chaotic and ominous message. 

In the end though it's all pretty simple: Live fast, try not to die young, smash a few burgers along the way... and don't forget the beetroot. 

1. Millner, J., 'Ben Quilty and the Emotional Eloquence of Painting', Ben Quilty, The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, 2009, p. 39