Menzies Art Brands



Ian Fairweathers paintings are very keenly sought by discerning collectors and galleries right through the nation. Once they are bought they tend to be held and rarely appear on the market. In fact, the artists works have been offered for public sale in Australia as few as seventy-one times in the last ten years.This figure falls into dramatic perspective when compared with the 475 times that the artworks of his near contemporary Russell Drysdale (1912-1981) have been offered up for sale during the same time.

Fairweathers paintings are also very rare as he selectively destroyed much of his work at his very ramshackle studio-home on Bribie Island, near Caloundra just North of Moreton Bay in Queensland. Additionally, many of his paintings were lost over time through mildew, fire or rodent damage even an official touring retrospective in 1994, organised by the prize-winning author Murray Bail for the Queensland Art Gallery, could muster up only sixty-four paintings.

Fairweather was a most perplexing man. He knew Somerset Maugham, Augustus John, Walter Sickert and Robert Scott of Antarctic fame - all in all, his was a life of a different order. He was an Officer in the British Army, came from a high class colonial British family, was fluent in Japanese and Chinese, yet turned his back on High Society to take up art and to spend most of his life travelling in Asia and living as a hermit. It must be added that in doing this he produced some of the most admired, and indeed most desired, paintings in Australia. There is possibly only one credible answer for it: Fairweather was the first Australian artist to live out and embody the attributes of what the Chinese know as the hermit poet or the wandering scholar. This archetype is virtually unknown in Australia, but its place is firmly entrenched in most of Asia as an extension of Buddhist withdrawal combined with the renunciation of the Indian Sadhu. What it did for Fairweather was to release him from the constraints of convention. He lived in abject conditions and yet created works that are aesthetically gravitating. These attributes 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, Fairweathers paintings never look forced, their child-like informality looks natural and they generally look almost self-made.

Fairweathers painting Fascismo of 1963 comes from an important period in his life when he more fully embraced abstraction and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra bought his paintings. His solo exhibition in August of 1963 at Sydneys Macquarie Gallery attracted very favourable 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. Fairweathers painting Fascismo of 1963 is of this period and is most characteristic of his pictorial interests of the time. It comes two years before he was selected to represent Australia in the 7th Bienal de So Paulo in Brazil and was included in the Australian Painting Today exhibition, which toured Australian State galleries and travelled to Paris, Amsterdam, Milan and Bonn.

Ian Fairweather was born on Tuesday 29 September in 1891 at Bridge of Allan in Stirlingshire in Scotland and was the youngest of nine children. His father, James, a man of the most perfect temper, was educated at Edinburgh University, became a Surgeon Major and Deputy Surgeon-General and worked for the Bengal Medical Service in India attached to the Twenty-Second Punjabi Rifles. Upon Ian Fairweathers birth his parents decided to leave to live in India and they left their baby son in the care of various aunts who lived in Brechin, Sydenham and Jersey. Fairweathers parents returned from India in 1902 and the entire family moved to live in tiger skin decorated opulence with butler service at Beaumont on the Isle of Jersey. Fairweather was educated there at Victoria College and later was privately tutored in Earls Court in London and at the age of twenty-one he entered army officer training in Belfast. 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 Far East, as it was then called, 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.

Fairweathers accomplished painting Fascismo of 1963 is an important example of Fairweathers very rare foray into socio-political themes. The painting was created at a time when social tension was a high point; the situation seemed to affect the whole globe. This was the time of Post-Suez escalation of geographical control that saw the rise of Khrushchev in the Soviet Union and Castro in Cuba. Fairweather, who had already lived through two World Wars, was not unaware of the fateful omens that regularly appeared in the Press. He created a small number of works whose themes arise from social apprehension: Propaganda of 1961, Xenophobia of 1962, Public Relations of 1963 and the present painting, Fascismo also of 1963.

The painting owes its title to the Italian word for Fascism, which itself comes from the Latin word fasce, meaning band, ribbonor the rush of a reed.The word is still used to refer to a bandage, since in rural areas a rush leaf often served as a wound dressing. The Ancient Romans, when uniting the tribes of early Rome used a war axe bound with rushes (a fasces) as a symbol of peace amongst warring tribes. It was later famously re-used by Benito Mussolini as a symbol of Fascist rule. The point is that Fairweather, in his painting Fascismo of 1963, has used axe-head shapes throughout the work as visual hints of the icon of Fascism. The painting presents as a semi-abstracted play on the associations of Fascism thus considered, its brooding colours take on new meaning and its flurry of forms show a masterly control of painterly progressions of tone and chromatic effects that outperform the more flat abstractions of the American artist Mark Tobey (1890-1976).

The wonderful Australian art critic Robert Hughes once famously camped overnight at Macquarie Galleries door in 1963 to buy one of Fairweathers paintings: he was right to do so. The years from 1962 to 1967 show Fairweather at his most characteristic and artistically resolved; it is generally agreed that they were his best years and his brilliant painting Fascismo of 1963 stands as one of the highlights of this period.



Alderton, S., (Ed.) Ian Fairweather: An Artist of the 21st Century, Lismore Regional Gallery, Lismore, 2005

Anon., Fairweather at Macquarie, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 12 May 1965

Abbot-Smith, N., Ian Fairweather: Profile of a Painter, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1978

Bail, M., Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney, 1981

Bail, M., Fairweather, Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2009

Bail, M., Ryckmans, P.; Eagle, M.; Modieska, D.; Armiger, M.; Capon, J., Fairweather, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1994

Brook, D., Show that says Attack, The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October 1970

Catalano, G., The Years of Hope: Australian Art and Criticism 1956-68, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1981

Fisher, T., The Drawings of Ian Fairweather, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997

Gleeson, J., His painting has the spirit of China , The Sun, Sydney, 12 May 1965

Gleeson, J., Fusing art forms, The Sun-Herald, Sydney, 16 May 1965

Gleeson, J., The Work of a Master, The Sun, 28 October 1970

Gleeson, J., Ian Fairweather owns Two Cultures, The Sun-Herald, 1 November 1970

Hawley, J., Ian Fairweather by Murray Bail, The Age, Melbourne, 5 November 1981, p.11

Lynn, E., The Move is East, The Australian, Sydney, 22 May 1965.

National Gallery of Victoria, Ian Fairweather, 1891-1974: A Centenary Commemoration in the Australian Art Project Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1991

Niagara Galleries, Ian Fairweather: Paintings and Drawings 1927-1970, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 1985

Queensland Art Gallery, Fairweather: A Retrospective Exhibition, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1965

Shakespeare, N., Fairweather and Foul: Art as Driftwood, The Australian, Sydney, 7 July 2010

Renshaw, J., Detachment and Triumph, The Australian, Sydney, 7 November 1970.

Smee, S., Castaway, Murray Bails Fairweather, The Monthly, Melbourne, May 2009

Smith, B.; Smith, T.; Heathcote, C., Australian Painting, 1788-2000, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 2001

Sorensen, R., Another Day in the Sun for Ian Fairweather, The Australian, Sydney, 13 April 2010

Thomas, D., The Serenity of Fairweather, Sunday Telegraph, Sydney, 16 May 1965


Associate Professor Ken Wach
Dip. Art; T.T.T.C.; Fellowship RMIT; MA; PhD.
Former Principal Research Fellow and Head of the School of Creative Arts
The University of Melbourne.


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