Few contemporary Australian artists have attained the national profile that Ben Quilty enjoys, thanks to his instantly recognisable impasto paintings and fearless engagement with our political, cultural and historical inheritances and concerns.

Ben Quilty. Photo © Daniel Boud

His clear-eyed interrogation of masculinity, his time as an official war artist in Afghanistan, and his tireless activism on behalf of Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are just a few reasons why he’s managed to strike such a chord with people, some of whom have never even stepped into an art gallery.

He’s the subject of a new major survey exhibition by the Art Gallery of South Australia, which opens as part of Adelaide Festival before travelling to Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Quiltyis the first major survey of the artist’s work in a decade.

“In the last 10 years we’ve seen the rise of Ben as the people’s painter, as a champion of social issues,” says Lisa Slade, Assistant Director, Artistic Programs at AGSA and curator of the exhibition. “Painting for him is his way of making sense of the world. He’s a brilliant cipher...