Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) Painting VI
Lot 6
Ian Fairweather
(1891-1974)
Painting VI
AU$ 150,000 - 200,000
US$ 110,000 - 150,000

Lot Details
Ian Fairweather (1891-1974)
Painting VI
signed lower left: 'Ian Fairweather'
polyvinyl acetate paint and gouache on cardboard
65.5 x 100.0cm (25 13/16 x 39 3/8in).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE
    Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
    Sir Tristan Antico, Sydney
    Sotheby's, Fine Australian Painting, Melbourne, 19 April 1994, lot 82, as 'Composition 200'
    Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
    Private collection
    Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane (label attached verso)
    Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
    Private collection, Sydney, acquired from the above in 1998

    EXHIBITED
    possibly, Macquarie Galleries, 1960, cat.6
    Ian Fairweather and Emily Kngwarreye, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 1995
    Melbourne Art Fair, Phillip Bacon Galleries, 1998

    LITERATURE
    Murray Bail, Fairweather, Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2009, p. 164

    In November 1959 Ian Fairweather wrote to his gallerist Treania Smith at the Macquarie Galleries to say he was sending her a package of twenty paintings that he supposed would 'have to come under the heading of abstracts'. Fairweather wrote, in his usual slightly self-deprecating way, that they were mostly about 'nothing in particular'. He added that he had painted most of them on sheets of the local newspaper, the Brisbane Courier Mail, because that was all he had to hand. Five months later he sent another bundle of sixteen works, twelve of which were medium-sized and four smaller works painted on thin sheets of cardboard, all to be shown in a solo show in July.

    What these combined bodies of work signified in fact was a radical departure for the artist, whose previous work, if not entirely representational, at least carried strong narrative themes and recognisable subject matter.

    Ian Fairweather had been exhibiting with the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney since 1948 but always from a distance, packing his paintings and drawings himself and posting them down to Sydney from wherever he was living at the time – Cairns, Townsville, and finally, Bribie Island. While he was absent from the art scene physically, his reputation grew and the word slowly spread amongst those collectors 'in the know'. In spite of his success, however, he remained plagued by restlessness and anxiety and in 1952 undertook a now infamous raft sea voyage that he was lucky to survive.

    In 1953 he returned to Bribie Island and built his first hut, a rough shack assembled from pieces of driftwood, timber and plywood. He worked well with the Macquarie Galleries which was then run by Treania Smith, Lucy Swanton and Mary Turner, a uniquely female team to which he seemed to respond. With their support came both an income and an appreciation previously absent from his life and though to the outside world his lifestyle may have seemed eccentric and ramshackle, by 1960 he achieved a stability and constancy that had previously eluded him. A small circle of friends (Lawrence and Edit Daws, Pamela Bell, Margaret Olley, Rudy Komon and several local families) often visited to play chess, go fishing or just enjoy a tipple of Scotch with the artist. His daily routine was settled and calm and for the next five or six years he would create his most significant works.

    In an interview with Hazel de Berg in 1963 Fairweather related how in the 1930s he had developed lead poisoning from oil paint (probably from lead white), especially on one particular finger, and henceforth began to use gouache 1. During the 1940s he experimented with various pigments, mixing them with soap and casein (a protein taken from dairy food) in an effort to make them more stable, though many since have proved to be problematic.

    By 1958 he had discovered that if he mixed dry pigments with PVA (polyvinyl acetate) house paint the combination was more robust. This material (which he persisted in calling 'gouache') had the added bonus of being conveniently available at the local Bribie Island hardware store, no small matter for an artist living in a remote location. The end result is a thinning down of the paint which allowed for semi-transparent layers of colour of gossamer lightness in palettes of soft greys, browns and creamy whites. Some works, such as here with Painting VI, contained a thin but forceful calligraphic line in black paint which was also reduced and simplified, producing a more fluid, less hectic effect. All the works were executed on thin cardboard fixed to a sturdier support of thicker cardboard, and were painted horizontally on a large table, a physically demanding work method that he would soon abandon.

    Fairweather's favourite subject was always the human form. Wherever he was in the world he liked to depict people in their various guises and incarnations, mostly performing their ceremonies, a long-lasting effect of being abandoned by his parents and eight siblings when still a small baby. This choice of subject matter is in itself enough to distinguish him in the history of Australian art and perhaps accounts for a reticence amongst some collectors who preferred representations of the Australian landscape as depicted by Boyd, Nolan and Williams.

    As Australia has matured as a culture, however, so has our appreciation of Fairweather's work. Last Supper, 1958, and The Pool, 1959, both in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, demonstrate the influences of Asia and the calligraphic line with an almost claustrophobic airlessness, making the sudden move into abstraction all the more dramatic. While in the abstract works we can still recognize the familiar subject – the tangled arms, breasts and torsos – they are here radically simplified. Colour is used in blocks instead of the more complicated patterns that distinguish works (both earlier and later) and the palette is more subdued. Many of the abstracts – as here with Painting VI – are 'framed' with a painted grey border, a feature he perhaps took from the work of the American artist Mark Rothko although it is most often applied with more clarity and definition.

    With these abstract works, Fairweather claimed not to be painting any subject in particular. They were, he said, 'sort of soliloquies', the Unconscious given form. Although he only painted a small number, they are 'breakthrough' works that enabled him a few years later to paint the elegiac compositions that are now acknowledged as his masterpieces – Monastery, 1961, collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Monsoon, 1961-2, collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Shalimar 1962, collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Epiphany, 1962, collection of the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, and Turtle and Temple Gong, 1965, collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; they are a bridge from a highly complex style to a more fluid, rhythmic form and belong to a body of work that would come to define his importance in Australian art.

    1. Ian Fairweather interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection
    [sound recording] 30 March 1963, nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn164436
    Murray Bail, Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Rushcutters Bay, 1981
    Nourma Abbott-Smith, Ian Fairweather: Profile of a Painter, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1978
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