Ben Quilty / Australia b.1973 / Sergeant P, after Afghanistan 2012 / Oil on linen / 190 x 140cm / Purchased 2014 with funds from the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Appeal and Returned & Services League of Australia (Queensland Branch) / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Ben Quilty

Ben Quilty
Sergeant P, after Afghanistan 2012

Not Currently on Display

Shortly after winning the Archibald Prize with his portrait of the much-loved painter Margaret Olley, Ben Quilty toured with Australian troops in October 2011 as part of the Australian War Memorial’s Official War Art Scheme. By his own admission, Quilty had a fear of being a participant of war since he was a child, and was robustly anti-war in his sentiments as a consequence. His time in Afghanistan, however, and more specifically his contact with the personnel in the context of their duties and the conditions they operated under, had greatly nuanced his attitude.

Quilty spent three weeks in Kabul, Kandahar and Tarin Kot observing Australia’s servicemen and women, and learning their stories. He made numerous sketches and took countless photographs of these personnel — both as records in their own right, and as notes for later works to be produced in his studio. Trusted with these first-hand descriptions, he felt an overwhelming responsibility to convey a deeper insight into the bravery and consequence of the situation.

Quilty explains that Sergeant P was involved in a helicopter crash that killed some of his mates and left him with serious injuries to his legs and back. Despite this, Sergeant P chose to stand for his portrait.

‘My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance.’1 — Ben Quilty

Ben Quilty is one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists. He is best known for his rich impasto paintings that explore the powerful relationship between personal experience and public narrative. His subjects are bold and confronting yet highly considered, often questioning his own identity, reflecting on the artist’s role as witness and art’s power to make sense of the world.

‘Instead of simply focusing on his heavy application of paint and rapidity of execution, one becomes conscious of the intelligence that underpins the action. Quilty may slap on paint like a berserk warrior, but he plans his themes and motifs in the manner of a general mapping out a campaign.’2


1. Ben Quilty, quoted in Sasha Grishin, ‘A noisy, passionate show from an artist in ahurry, Quilty has just one emotional pitch’, The Conversation, 6 March 2019, <>, viewed May 2019.
2. John McDonald, ‘Rev-head drops down a gear’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 October 2009, pp.14–15.