Artist Ben Quilty faces his reflection for Self Portrait on Paper exhibition

ARCHIBALD Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty has created a piece for the Bouddi Foundation’s Self Portrait on Paper exhibition. He describes the process as ‘a powerful way of looking at the world’.

ARCHIBALD Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty has created a piece for the Bouddi Foundation’s Self Portrait on Paper exhibition, which asked 24 of Australia’s most highly regarded artists to distil themselves on to a single sheet of white paper.

What he discovered? If you truly turn the mirror on yourself, then you are forced to face the reflection.

Quilty’s piece, titled simply Self Portrait 2016, shows the “madness, reflects a sort of intensity” spilling over from the hectic start to his year — travelling to refugee camps with World Vision, an experience he said was incredibly moving.

Though, he said, “last year was worse”.

Quilty’s friendship and mentor relationship with Bali Nine member Myuran Sukumaran lasted for three years until the convicted drug smuggler was executed in April last year.

Over those years, Quilty saw Sukumaran confront his own self-portraits and harness the power of looking inward.

“Young people, and Myuran in the most extreme sense, have a very meaningful experience of the world right in front of them,” he said.

“He had a bigger life experience than anyone I ever met.

“I quite often find people are afraid to look, but the most interesting things happen at home, the things that make what it is to be a human in 2016 as opposed to any other time in history.”

So for Quilty, his entry for Self-Portraits on Paper was a reflection of this grand tradition, one full of “meditation on the self as a human being, what it means for broader society, what is humanness and compassion and empathy”.

“It allows a close observation, of the way you treat your neighbour based on the way you treat yourself. It’s a very powerful way of looking at the world,” he said.

Quilty is no stranger to some of the horrors that neighbours inflict on neighbours — in his role as a war artist for the Australian Defence Force, his involvement with World Vision and in his own artistic focus on the unacknowledged crimes against Aboriginal communities.

“I’m drawn to stories that aren’t being told, and quite often if they’re not being told then there’s some sort of injustice as to why,” he said.

“I was very drawn to the young men and women I met in Afghanistan, who were really involved in something so much bigger than anything I’d ever imagined. The brutality of war really struck home.”

And so, despite living an admittedly “adventurous life all the time”, his self-portrait wasn’t “down to one thing, but looking in the mirror”.

“I wanted my portrait to be strong, because at the heart of it the Bouddi Foundation is trying to empower,” he said.

“It’s as much a reflection of the ideas behind (the foundation) as it was a reflection of the beginning of this year and last year.”

Bouddi Foundation’s Self Portraits on Paper will launch at the Yellow House, Potts Point, on Friday, with an auction on Thursday, March 17

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph, March 11, 2016