Ian Fairweather

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Friday 24 August 2012
Ron Brownson

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Geoff Hawkshaw Ian Fairweather at Bribie Island, Queensland, January 1966
courtesy of the National Library of Australia
nla.pic-an23531589

I know I have written about Ian Fairweather before but I have just re-read Murray Bail’s book Fairweather (Sydney, Craftsman House, 1994) with its lovely suite of essays by Murray, Pierre Ryckmans, Mary Eagle, Drusilla Modjeska, Martin Armiger and Joana Capon. What a terrific group of writers, all offering their diverse responses to one of Australia’s most impressive artists.

For me, Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) is an archetypical art maverick. A Scotsman, traditionally trained at London’s Slade School of Art, he left before he graduated. Travelled to Canada, China, Hong Kong and Bali before arriving in Melbourne during 1934. Then spent 8 years wandering around South-East Asia, returning to Australia landing up at Bribie Island off Brisbane’s coast. Set off again to Asia and Europe, but came back to Bribie Island in 1955.

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Artist unknown Ian Fairweather in his Bribie Island studio c1965
courtesy of the National Archives of Australia
ID: A6135, K24/11/72/1

The Chartwell Collection owns one of Ian Fairweather’s key late paintings – Nebula of 1963. It was created at a time when many of his paintings reflected musical themes. On one hand, Nebula is connected with the raw, sandy landscape around the artist’s island hut. Yet, it also plays with ideas about close silhouettes and deep space. Fairweather’s paintings are fascinating because they look as if they have been painted at great speed but the opposite is true – they are always altered and then altered and then altered again.

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Ian Fairweather, Nebula, 1963
synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard laid on composition board
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1988

Two years after he created Nebula, he commented in an interview with Hazel de Berg that ‘Painting to me is something of a tightrope act; it is between representation and the other thing – whatever that is. It is difficult to keep one’s balance.’

Next time you are visiting an Australian state gallery, look out for Ian Fairweather's work. His art is not as glitzy-swoopy as Brett Whiteley’s or as instantly beautiful (thankfully for that). Fairweather has the gutsiness and integrity of Tony Tuckson’s work as well as the atmospheric sensitivity of that arch aesthete, Clarice Beckett. Like their art, Fairweather’s work just gets better and better.