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Fairweather and figuration

Ian Fairweather Composition 1955

Ian Fairweather, Scotland/Australia 1891–1974 | Composition 1955 | Gouache and watercolour on thin card | Purchased 1984. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation with funds from Queensland Art Gallery Society | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Ian Fairweather, 1955 /DACS. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2013


Ian Fairweather, Scotland/Australia 1891-1974 | Kite flying 1958 | Synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard laid down on composition board | Purchased 1985 with the assistance of funds raised through a special Queensland Art Gallery Foundation appeal and with a contribution from the Queensland Art Gallery Society | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Ian Fairweather, 1958/DACS. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2013

Currently on display | Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries | Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

Ian Fairweather is one of the most significant artists to have worked in Australia, where he settled in 1953 on Bribie Island, in Moreton Bay. This display brings together works exploring his diverse representations of the human figure.

As a young man, the decision after World War One to become an artist led Fairweather to train at London’s prestigious Slade School of Art. As a student of the Slade (1920–24), Fairweather trained under Professor Henry Tonks, who had originally studied to be a surgeon. Tonks used his anatomical knowledge to teach life drawing. Students were encouraged to study Old Master prints and drawings in the British Museum and the National Gallery. Tonks took a liking to the young Fairweather and, in 1925, he arranged for Fairweather to meet his first benefactor, Leverton Harris; it was through Harris that the artist met the great English collector Harold Stanley (HS) Ede.

The progressive stylisation and abstraction of figurative elements in Fairweather’s works can be traced from the 1930s onwards. Reviewing Fairweather’s 1934 exhibition in Melbourne, George Bell wrote:

. . . such delicate sensitivity of form and colour and such power over his means of expression. . . ensures him a high place among the artists of today . . . The work, freely executed and sketchy rather than elaborated, shows that power of draughtsmanship and sense of style exhibited by the best of the Slade students.

In the late 1950s, Fairweather’s painting moved into a short period of complete abstraction, but the figure later returned. Fairweather described these tensions in his work as being ‘between representation and the other thing, whatever that is, and it’s difficult to keep one’s balance’.

The Gallery holds an impressive group of works by Ian Fairweather and regularly curates changing displays allowing for detailed consideration of his oeuvre. These displays acknowledge Fairweather’s significance in the story of Australian art, and recognise the close connection the artist enjoyed with Queensland, the place where he created his great, late works.

Collection Highlights

Ian Fairweather Composition 1955

The title of this painting emphasises its abstract qualities. While Fairweather’s figures in this decade were largely linear, resembling drawn rather than painted figures, they began to refract and their lines to multiply as his work became more abstract. The art historian Mary Eagle observed:

One image would go over another, virtually the same but out of register, so that the under image was seen through the upper image. Rather than cancelling each other, these images were separate perceptions of the same thing.

The figure in Composition is not seen from multiple points of view, but rather is drawn in multiples, so that she flattens out and radiates across the surface. Like many other figures in his work from this period, Fairweather has bisected her with a seam which splits her body. This line draws attention to the navel, perhaps recalling the severance of the umbilical relationship between mother and infant.

Ian Fairweather Kite flying 1958

Kite flying, one of Fairweather's most significant works, exemplifies the artist's approach to painting. Lines inspired by Chinese calligraphy cross the work, exposing layers of underpainting. Figures, kites and balloons dance in and out of focus in a fusion of shapes and colours.

The work is based on a 2000-year-old Chinese kite flying festival, which celebrates the protection of loved ones against misfortune. The festival commemorates the story of Huan Ching, a man from the Han period in China, who was warned by a sage to take his wife and children to the mountains.

Taking this advice, he took his family kite flying, and so escaped the massacre that befell their livestock. The felicity of this occasion is reflected in the painting's joyous vibrancy.

Of Interest 

The Queensland Art Gallery houses a significant collection of Australian paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects, and works on paper. Find more information on these selected Collection highlights | Indigenous Australian Art | Queensland Heritage | Australian Art to 1975 | Contemporary Australian Art 

Search the Queensland Art Gallery's Collection online for works by Ian Fairweather | Collection Search