Australian Story profiles painter Ben Quilty, Official War Artist in Afghanistan, who says young soldiers are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and are having suicidal thoughts.
Ben Quilty (38) found national fame when he won the 2011 Archibald Prize with a portrait of his mentor, Margaret Olley. This led to an invitation by the Australian War Memorial to fill the role of Official War Artist in Afghanistan.
Ben Quilty has always been drawn to explore concepts of masculinity, starting with painting his mates in their youthful excesses of drugs, alcohol and fast cars. Going to war has been Ben Quilty’s greatest fear since childhood. The deployment threatened to test his views on courage and masculinity to the limit.
Getting to know the soldiers during their portrait painting sessions revealed to Ben Quilty a depth of emotional distress that shocked him to his core. Australian Story features exclusive access to two of these currently-serving special operations commandos who reveal the personal cost of working in an extremely violent environment.
“I was involved in the Blackhawk helicopter crash in 2010. We lost three blokes and had a fair few blokes injured quite severely. It’s something that changed me forever and I think just telling Ben about it has probably opened his eyes a little bit to some of the events that occur,” says 28-year-old Private ‘B’ of Special Operations Task Group who is a ‘protected identity individual’.
“Ben is stunning in his insight and so able to express those things which we either don’t see, or we’re not prepared to admit, in what we observe in our military minds,’ says Air Commodore John Oddie (ret’d) former Deputy Head, Joint Forces in Middle East
On completing the commission, Ben Quilty says ‘It was an honour to be given access to those people. I guess because in my paintings the likeness is quite often questionable, the Australian Defence Force hasn’t seemed to have had too much problems with me making paintings of them, because no-one knows who the hell it is anyway,” says Ben Quilty.
8pm Monday on ABC1.