Artist Ben Quilty awarded honorary doctorate

Australian artist Ben Quilty has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Western Sydney in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the arts.

The 2011 Archibald Prize winner was handed the doctorate by Chancellor Peter Shergold during a ceremony at the university's Parramatta campus this morning.

Professor Shergold said Quilty was contributing to the arts in a profound way, but it was also important to recognise his other achievements.

He described Quilty as a "person of compassion, and sensitivity, and forgiveness".

Quilty has been a vocal advocate for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the two convicted Australian drug smugglers on death row in Indonesia.

He used his acceptance speech to raise the issue again.

"Given a slightly different set of circumstances, I can assure you he [Sukumaran] would be amongst you lot," he said, pointing to the graduates in the audience.

"He did finish his associate degree at the end of last year through Curtin University in Perth, but he does deserve to finish his full degree.

"I hope that one day, when he's back in Australia, he'll finish it."

Quilty also reflected on his own studies, telling the ceremony he learnt more than just visual art.

"Through education, I always see... how important that instructed study of compassion is, that moving forward we can forgive and build the social fibre that it takes to build a country that I can personally be proud of," he said.

Quilty graduated from the university in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts specialising in visual communication and design.

In 2011 he was appointed an official war artist, spending three weeks with the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan.

He is now serving on the Board of Trustees at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Originally published in ABC News, April 15, 2015