ABC NEWS REPORTER: The who's who of the art world, political leaders and fans gathered to honour one of Australia's best loved artists - including Ben Quilty who painted this year's Archibald Prize winning portrait of Margaret Olley.
 In October 2019, the Art Gallery of New South Wales hosted the exhibition, coinciding with the release of the documentary Quilty – Painting the Shadows, made by Catherine Hunter, on ABC Television on 19 November 2019. I wasn't always admitting the truth to myself about my life. AIR COMMODORE JOHN ODDIE (RET), FMR DEPUTY COMMANDER, JOINT FORCES MIDDLE EAST: And to meet him coming in was: oh gosh' and I had about 10 minutes where we just happened to discover in those 10 minutes that we happened to live somewhere near each other.
So it was an honour to be given access to those people. And I'd met Margaret Olley, so I was prepared for John. Then it's also one of the busiest airports in the world. AIR COMMODORE JOHN ODDIE (RET), FMR DEPUTY COMMANDER, JOINT FORCES MIDDLE EAST: In 2011, I deployed to be the Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force 633, which is a military term for all the Australians that are deployed to the Middle East, about 2,500 people, with a major focus on Afghanistan. We were stuck behind cover ah being constantly engaged by the insurgency. The intensity of this experience and the friendships he made led Ben to question the way some of our troops are coping with the experience.
And eventually we withdrew under the protection of darkness.
The painting sessions with soldiers have continued back in Australia and Quilty says he now has a dozen new lifetime friends.
It seemed like such a neat fit. And then he told me that he'd just been offered the position of Official War Artist in Afghanistan (laughs) and I nearly died. KYLIE NEEDHAM, WIFE: Well the people from the War Memorial did come here and they let us know what, what was likely to happen and what wasn't likely to happen and how Ben would be looked after. And I started doing drawings of the soldiers.
He asked me if I didn't mind posing nude. He works with a palette knife, molding high-contrast blocks of color from slabs of paint for a smeared, gestural style. It forced him to reconsider his own 'anti-war' sentiments. In some ways they were very parallel souls, they just really liked each other. And you know, I sort of thought 'well I'm not going to come to this restaurant again in a hurry!'
I met one young man who was an engineer and he'd been to an explosive device that had detonated and killed 11 children. 1991: Julian Ashton Summer School Scholarship. But that's life and you've got to tough it out to some extent.
AWARD PRESENTER: The 2011 Archibald prize is awarded to Ben Quilty for Margaret Olley. And I asked them, not only to tell me more of the stories, but also to suggest a pose that encapsulated some of their feelings of the emotion that surrounded their experience in Afghanistan. … BEN QUILTY: The SOTG guys would take me out on training runs still within Tarin Kot, still within the base but into some pretty beautiful parts of the landscape around Tarin Kot. I organised a couple of trips for him around TK base. So when I met him, he really didn't fit the picture of what I knew of these rough Quilty boys.
And those became the paintings that he sent off to the Brett Whiteley Scholarship, which he ultimately won. Kandahar Air Base is a city of 35,000 people. Ben Quilty is a contemporary Australian artist whose thickly painted landscapes and portraits have garnered international acclaim. So I wasn't too surprised; a little bit worried, but not too surprised at all.
Myta Herron. I definitely always loved making drawings and paintings and really it's cause mum was at different art schools doing painting and printmaking for most of my childhood. And I walked in and I just lost my breath. So Ben sees that in us.  In December 2018, a Christmas Tree created by Quilty and artist, Mirra Whale from refugees' discarded lifevests, was displayed in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. We flew into Tarin Kot. Instagram Star. There's no doubt that Ben sees those, that we've had to carry those bad moments. And that's just work. CAPTAIN 'S', SPECIAL OPERATIONS TASK FORCE: Ben definitely wasn't the type of person I thought I was going to meet as an artist. The sketches are in the field, so we know that he's sitting there with these troops, making these sketches of them; sitting down doing portrait sittings in Kandahar, Tarin Kot. And then I did really well at High School in art and then went to Art School at the end of that. Margaret walked up to Ben, the night of the award, and she had her little frame and she had a cigarette poking out and she was in the cloud of smoke. The master shows us his tricks.
Because we did decide that he was a valuable person that needed to get home if at all possible. All the guys in the Special Operations Task Group have hidden, secret identities so their image is never portrayed, their names are not portrayed. BEN QUILTY: She was a writer and I hadn't really known any serious writers before. , Examples of Quilty's work are held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Golden Soil, Wealth for Toil (2004), acquired 2005, Fairy Bower Rorschach (2012), acquired 2012, and Self Portrait, the Executioner (2015), acquired 2015), the Art Gallery of South Australia (Self portrait (as Cook ...) (2011), and Self portrait (as Cook with sunglasses) (2011)), the Bendigo Art Gallery (Kuta Rorschach No 2 (2013), acquired 2014), the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery (Torana (2007), and Skull Rorschach (2009)) the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (Van Rorschach (2005), acquired 2007), the Parliament of Australia (Lead Shot Rorschach (2013)), and the Queensland Art Gallery (Sergeant P, after Afghanistan (2012)).
AIR COMMODORE JOHN ODDIE (RET), FMR DEPUTY COMMANDER, JOINT FORCES MIDDLE EAST: To hear there was a war artist coming, I thought well how about that! When Ben won the Brett Whiteley Scholarship, the judge was Margaret Olley.
AIR COMMODORE JOHN ODDIE (RET), FMR DEPUTY COMMANDER, JOINT FORCES MIDDLE EAST: You know going back into a tough environment that you're going to take a bit more damage on board, you're going to have another layer of life experience. Ben Quilty’s artwork provides opportunities for students to explore the relationship between the subject matter in Quilty’s work and how the artwork is then formed.
It was a way to be around them and still paint. And there are some people who are going to hate that I'm saying it, and I feel like I maybe threatening the, the future of the war artists' residency, but it's just the truth. KYLIE NEEDHAM, WIFE: His way of dealing with all of his feelings, as it always has been, is to put it into his paintings. CAPTAIN 'S', SPECIAL OPERATIONS TASK FORCE: He showed me how other Archibald paintings of the military were, and they were all nude. BEN QUILTY: Being asked to go to Afghanistan and saying yes, it seems like, but now I knew that I was going to be protected by this huge force of young people who, and I was told, would do everything within their power to protect me, which is an amazing feeling. First Name Ben. Jeremy Bieber. BEN QUILTY: I was definitely a grumpy young man when I got back from Afghanistan. I got the kids to … Can you tell me more about it while I prepare to make this painting?'. He has some diaries, he's written in them from sort of the age of about 10 or 11 how much he was afraid of war. They said to me if it's a direct hit, it's coming straight through. At the end of the portrait sitting, he stood up and said 'you've painted me exactly how I feel. We are keen to hear your story ideas and follow-ups, as well as suggestions. He was educated at Kenthurst Public School and Oakhill College, where he exhibited his HSC artwork in ArtExpress 1991.
The War Memorial's Ben Quilty exhibition will tour nationally from February next year.
And it remains to be seen how the Veterans Affairs and Australian Defence Force and Return Services Leagues will support and care for those soldiers.