(1891 - 1974)
Ian Fairweather was active/lived in Australia. Ian Fairweather is known for painting and sculpture.
Biography from Menzies (formerly Deutscher-Menzies) Melbourne
Ian Fairweather is one of Australia's most enigmatic and respected
artists - special rooms of his work are set aside in the Art Gallery of
New South Wales and Queensland Art Gallery. Fairweather's paintings are
also very keenly sought after and his paintings are rare as he
destroyed much of his work and many were lost through mildew, fire or
rodent damage - even an official touring retrospective in 1994,
organized by the prize-winning author Murray Bail for the Queensland Art
Gallery, could muster up only sixty-four paintings.
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Fairweather's painting Composition in Orange and Yellow of
1963 comes from an important period in his life when he more fully
embraced abstraction and his paintings were bought by the National
Gallery of Australia in Canberra. His exhibition in August of 1963 at
Sydney's Macquarie Gallery which included Composition in Orange and Yellow attracted very favorable reviews and the art column in the Sydney Morning Herald
bore the heading 'Fairweather now seen as our greatest painter' - John
Henshaw, Daniel Thomas and Robert Hughes joined in the praise in their
respective writings on this significant exhibition. Fairweather's
painting Composition in Orange and Yellow is one of his most
characteristic and calligraphic works and comes two years before he
represented Australia in the 7th Bienal de Sâo Paula in Brazil and was
included in the Australian Painting Today exhibition, which toured
Australian State galleries and traveled to Paris, Amsterdam, Milan and
Ian Fairweather was born on September 29, 1891 at the town of Bridge of
Allan in Stirlingshire in Scotland and he was the youngest of nine
children. Fairweather's father was a Deputy Surgeon General and worked
for the Indian Medical Service attached to the Twenty-Second Punjabi
Rifles and his mother originally hailed from the Isle of Jersey. Upon
Fairweather's birth his parents decided to leave to live in India and
they left their baby son in the care of various aunts - he did not see
his parents at all for the next ten years.
It is difficult to determine
what effects this separation might have had. Certainly, such traumas
have effects and though they are unusual, they are not uncommon through
early deaths, desertion, wartime casualties and the like. Additionally,
living with other families and being tolerated rather than accepted
carries its own private strains and some commentators see this early
juvenile period as somehow linked to Fairweather's later legendary
solitariness - there may well be truth in the old proverb 'as the twig
is bent, so grows the tree'.
Fairweather's parents returned from India
in 1902 and the family moved to live at Beaumont on the Isle of Jersey.
Fairweather was educated there at Victoria College and tutored privately
in Earl's Court in London and at Chempéry in Switzerland. He entered
army officer training in Belfast and, at the outbreak of World War I,
was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army. He was
captured after just two months near Dour in France and sat out the rest
of the War in various prisoner of war camps around Germany. This
enforced period of confinement led him to discover the writings of
Ernest. F. Fenollosa (1853-1908), an American scholar of Japanese
aesthetics and the Professor of Philosophy at Tokyo University, and the
immensely popular books on the Orient by the Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn
(1850-1904). It is hard today to imagine the impact that these two
writers had upon the popular imagination, but suffice it to say that
they unlocked the East to millions. For Fairweather, the intellectual
effects of his new literary diet must have been dramatic as, soon after,
he started to learn Japanese and took up drawing.
In 1918, he was in
The Hague in Holland and started art studies at the Royal Academy of
Art, Europe's oldest art school, as well as taking private classes with
the respected Dutch Realist artist Hendrik van Mastenbroek (1875-1945).
Fairweather resigned his Army commission in 1919 and took up further art
studies at the Slade School in London and returned to learning Japanese
and later Chinese at London University's School of Oriental and African
Studies as well as taking in the treasures of the National Gallery and
the British Museum. His art works came to the attention of Leverton
Harris (1864-1926), the noted London art collector and politician, who
supported Fairweather for two years until 1927 even though only four
canvasses were produced - these were to be the only oil on canvas works
Fairweather ever produced.
Through contacts at the Slade School
Fairweather formed a life-long friendship with Harold Ede (1895-1990)
who was the Assistant Curator at London's Tate Gallery and later the
famous founder of the Kettle's Yard Gallery of the University of
Cambridge. Through Ede, Fairweather became aware of the latest art in
England and Europe and confirmed his artistic path.
Fairweather's artistic path was characterized by a very footloose
approach and seemed to depend heavily upon the input of almost constant
travel. It was as though living and working in other countries supplied
him with the right subject matter and the right impulse to create. This
is not unusual in artists looking for fresh sensations and the habit
still exists to this day. However, what is unusual is that Fairweather's
travels were mostly restricted to Asian locations and that they started
in 1929, a time when very little was generally known about Far East
countries, as they were then called. There must have been something in
Fenollosa and Hearn's writings that deeply stirred Fairweather's
nomadism and propelled him through China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong,
Borneo, Bali and the Philippines.
It is important to note that
Fairweather was not an Orientalist who, as in much Nineteenth Century
Colonial art, looked for exotic stimuli and imposed Western modes upon
them. Nor was he driven by any ethnographic curiosity to depict the
habits and customs of foreign peoples and cultures and he possessed no
anthropological imagination that would limit him to making studies and
comparisons of societies and patterns of living. On the contrary,
Fairweather did the opposite and tried to learn the modes of seeing of
the people he was with and there is something of the autobiographical
about his paintings, as they are very much reliant upon the places and
events that dotted his life. He later referred to these paintings as his
'tourist pieces', but the rueful self-deprecation of this phrase
overlooks the fact that what Fairweather was doing was far more
important than even he could have realized at the time.
contemporary hindsight it is possible to see that what Fairweather was
doing was trawling the East and gathering visual data - the local
colors, the stains on temple walls, graffiti on fences, the fluidity of
batik cloth, the patterns of printed fabric, the flow of line on a
scroll, the warmth of old tiles, the textures of thatched rooves - so
that he could construct a visual grammar of form that arose from
observed local experience. So successful was he in this that his subtle
paintings of the period sit well in their locations and do not look as
though a Westerner created them. The paintings' colors, themes and
tones are appropriate and blend within the ambiance of a village - they
are never paintings that shout for attention. This is quite different
from some Western artists who visit the East and paint works that are
intended for a Western wall and are conceived of as souvenirs of time
spent in a foreign land - they so often flaunt and wave about their
sense of place and pepper walls with 'interesting' oddities.
Fairweather's paintings go well beyond the aesthetic limitations of
any souvenir and have distinct formal and painterly characteristics:
flat planes rather than recessional illusions; screen and frieze-like
structures; scumbled surfaces; gestural paint work; no over-finishing;
multi-layered surfaces; delicate color harmonies; accidental effects;
frame within a frame formats; a 'stamped' monogrammatic quality; a loose
calligraphic line that renders form indistinctly and visual tension
between background and foreground elements. These elements seem to be
engendered in his work by a Taoist-like submission to the process of
painting them - a type of 'non-action' aesthetic response that relies
more on rumination and delectation than on getting a scene rendered
naturalistically. Consequently, Fairweather's paintings never look
forced, their child-like informality looks natural and they generally
Fairweather's very basic and hermit like existence in a
shack on Bridie Island in Northern Queensland confirms these
observations and his life there, where he painted his best works, seemed
motivated by the three main Taoist principles: compassion, moderation
and humility. Fairweather was the first Australian artist to live out
and embody the attributes of what the Japanese and Chinese know as the
'wandering scholar' or the 'hermit poet'.
An important point always gets overlooked: Ian Fairweather was the
first Australian artist to adopt and display what might be called a
Pacific Rim aesthetic. His itinerant life in the area provided him with a
lexicon of appropriate forms and a visual vocabulary that his artistic
mind concertinaed into paintings that are remarkable reconstructions of
his sensations. Somewhere along the line, in between painting, reading and
translating Japanese and Chinese texts, Fairweather had a great
realization: he saw that in Chinese culture there is no aesthetic gap
between painting and writing. To the Chinese, writing is a type of
painting in that form and style are important and painting is a type of
writing in that shape and line are central. The essential thing here is
that the end result is an ideogram - an idea form where meaning is
conveyed through line and shape and painting is considered as a type of
mark making. It is likely that this insight came to Fairweather in 1953
as his work and theme and style changes dramatically after this year.
Thereafter, Fairweather's painting took on more abstract characteristics
and his compositions rely on gestural flair and careful placement.
Fairweather's painting Composition in Orange and Yellow of 1963
is one of these and its calligraphic black lines were probably
suggested by the characters of a horizontal rice paper scroll attached
to six vertical pieces of split bamboo. The painting's yellow and orange
colors more than likely arise from the colors of Buddhist robes. The
painting has a gestural style that has no center and no place of focus
so that its pictorial interest is sustained from edge to edge.
sense it is closely related to his painting Turtle and Temple Gong of 1965 in the James Fairfax collection, which is a much more totemic and heavily worked painting. Fairweather's painting Composition in Orange and Yellow is also related to his work House by the Sea
of 1967 in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia,
although it is less reliant upon its accidental effects and drips of
paint. Thus considered, Fairweather's painting Composition in Orange and Yellow sits
in very fine company and even exceeds it in many ways: it is more
restrained; its color harmonies are richer and more varied and it
precedes the others in more breakthrough ways.
Fairweather's painting Composition in Orange and Yellow points
to his other and later successes and represents a distinct advance upon
his earlier works, while pointing in directions that were to occupy him
for the rest of his life. All these mature paintings come from a
critical period in Fairweather's life and they are all very
sophisticated examples of his forays into abstraction after 1953. They
all present Fairweather at his most characteristic and artistically
resolved; it is generally agreed that the years 1962 to 1967 were his
best years and his painting Composition in Orange and Yellow of 1963 stands at the pinnacle of this period.
Abbot-Smith, N., Ian Fairweather: Profile of a Painter, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1978.
Bail, M., Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney, 1981.
Catalano, G., The Years of Hope: Australian Art and Criticism 1956-68, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1981.
McQueen, H., The Black Swan of Trespass, Alternative Publishing Co-operative, 1979.
Smith, B., Smith, T., Heathcote, C., Australian Painting, 1788-2000, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 2001.
Associate Professor Ken Wach
Dip. Art; T.T.T.C.; Fellowship RMIT; MA; PhD.
Former Head, School of Creative Arts
The University of Melbourne
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