The Gallery’s entrance area features Ben Quilty’s first monumental Rorschach painting, a remake of Eugene von Guérard’s 1863 North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko. Although it is appreciated today as an exemplar of the Australian variant of the sublime tradition of European painting, the original work remained unsold (curiously, it was rediscovered in Mexico in 1973 by artist and critic James Gleeson, who championed its acquisition by the National Gallery of Australia). Using his signature lashings of oil paint, Quilty has copied the composition of von Guérard’s painting and then pressed the still-wet panels into six unpainted panels to create a mirror of the original. Using this method, inspired by Hermann Rorschach’s eponymous ink blots introduced in the early twentieth century as a tool for psychological testing, Quilty attempts ‘to force the viewer to “see” or recognise themselves in history in order to reassess our colonial past’.
Fairy Bower Rorschach, 2012, was made after Quilty discovered the violent history of an idyllic picnic spot not far from his home, a location on Gundungarra country where in 1834 Aboriginal women and children were reputedly massacred. The trauma of the event is rendered through the visceral impact of one canvas on another, an impact that leaves a biomorphic stain in the centre of the painting. Fairy Bower Rorschach performs the double act of delusion whereby at face value a picturesque landscape, complete with waterfall, is presented but a darker story is suggested by the painting’s central grotto.