Audience attendance and critical appreciation of the Gallery of Modern Art’s major exhibitions, ‘Margaret Olley: A Generous Life‘, and ‘Quilty‘, has been significant — both artists are iconic Australians that command loyal followings, yet part of this programming success has surely originated from the heartening personal connection between these two artists.
Ben Quilty first met Margaret Olley after she awarded him the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2002. Of course, when Quilty first heard that Olley was going to be guest judge of the Scholarship he was convinced there was no way he could win — his practice was just too gritty and abstract to appeal to Olley’s interests.
Surprised, Quilty struck a friendship with Olley that would endure to her last days. Olley’s mentorship and advocacy certainly bolstered Quilty’s career — and undoubtedly Quilty’s youthful appreciation of Olley’s spirit, tenacity and lifetime achievement was gratifying given her lifelong devotion to her practice.
Archibald Prize 2011
In 2011, he convinced Olley to sit for a portrait that would win the Archibald Prize that same year. His sketchbook from that sitting has now become the source for a delicate yet soaring wall-drawing that connects these two exhibitions in a tribute to Margaret Olley.
Using pastels cast in the shapes of teapots, jugs and vases from Olley’s home studio, Quilty has captured her unmistakable presence one more time. In the lead up to the opening of ‘Margaret Olley: A Generous Life’, he was busy sketching his large-scale drawings on the walls of GOMA’s long gallery.
Quilty has cast in chalk some of the objects Olley gave him over the years: teapots, jugs and other vessels, and has used these to draw as series of portraits.