Since the Whitechapel exhibition in 1961, paintings by Ian Fairweather have been part of every survey exhibition of Australian artwork. Since Bernard Smith’s 1962 Australian Painting, Fairweather has been a key figure in every analysis of Australian art history. His paintings can found in the National Gallery of Australia as well as all state art galleries and some regional centres. Murray Bail has published a monograph on him, and he has also been the subject in a number of important survey exhibitions.
Claire Roberts’s meticulously researched analysis of Fairweather’s ideas and art reveals that he can’t call an Australian artist. This isn’t because Australia has a bad habit of treating anyone who spends time here as one of its own.
Fairweather was born in Scotland, and raised in Jersey. He first visited Australia in 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s, he built a house on Queensland’s Bribie Island, where he lived until his death in 1974.
Chinese Art And Fairweather
Roberts’ first book on Fairweather, Ian Fairweather A life in letters co-written by John Thompson, provides the background research for the study of the artist’s life, relationships and constant search for meaning. The books that he read throughout his life are also important sources.
This study is unlike any other Fairweather studies. It features her scholarship in Mandarin and contemporary art. Roberts has the unique ability to analyze Fairweather’s work within the context of his unique understanding of Chinese literature, and classical Chinese language.
Roberts’ Mandarin scholarship is highlight in Fairweather’s stunningly illustrate and free translation of The Complete Biography of The Great Master Chi-tien (Jidian), which she analyzes The Drunken Buddha (1965).
She points out that, while this book was praise by many, it best describe as a creative exploration exercise. In her own words, a summative significance to an understanding Fairweather’s artistic practices.
In 1929, Fairweather visited China for the first time. 1936, Japan was about to declare war on China. Fairweather left China for the final time. However, his art was influence by Chinese ideas throughout his life, particularly Taoism, and Buddhism.
A National Artist Is An Artist Who Does Not Belong To Any Nation
Fairweather can best be describe as an independent British wanderer living in the colonial tradition the old Empire. The Art Gallery of South Australia asked Fairweather to name the artist that had most influenced his life. He replied, “a disciple of Turner, which is the most English of 19th-century artists.
His life bears all the scars and marks of the British Empire. He was the ninth child of an Indian Medical Service doctor and was born in Scotland. He was six months old when his parents left India and left the baby with a great-uncle. For the next ten year, he did not see his family. Due to family expectations and duty, he joined the British Army in 1914. However, he was captured by Germany and made a prisoner of war.
He first came across books about Japanese and Chinese art in the library of a PoW Camp. He studied art at Henry Tonks’ Slade after the war and then traveled to Canada, China Bali, Australia, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Fairweather took insane risks in his own safety throughout his entire life, but was always saved through chance. His accident landing on Bribie Island 1948 in his small, shabby sailing boat crashed into it. He did not return to the island until his most notorious misadventure.
This was 1952, when Fairweather tried to sail north-west in a homemade boat from Darwin and got lost at sea. Fairweather’s life is full of details, but Roberts summarizes it in one paragraph. It is not necessary to follow the same paths as before.
She concluded that Fairweather was an artist who didn’t belong to any nation, but walked his own path, searching for the truth. The text weaves together the truth the story of Fairweather, the young man who was caught in an avalanche in Switzerland, feeling at one and the mountains, the sailor wanting the sea to be with him, and the old man living on an island off Queensland’s coast, expose to the elements.
Laurence Binyon’s The Flight of the Dragon, an Essay on the Theory and Practice of Art In China and Japan was one of Fairweather’s favorite books. It is based on Original Sources (1914). Binyon wrote this:
To be an artist, one must see beyond the surface of the world and feel possessed by the great cosmic rhythm of spirit that sets the currents in motion.
Fairweather, I believe, would have considered the idea of claiming his artwork as belonging to any country or style an irrelevance.