Menzies Art Brands



Fairweathers painting Figures Study of c1965, created around the time of his seventy-fourth year, is offered up for auction for the first time. Overall, it displays Fairweathers process of semi-abstract ideation approximately nine years before his death of heart failure at the age of eighty-three.

There is much to suggest that Fairweathers undated and unexhibited painting Figures Study of circa 1965, created at his studio/home on Bribie Island in Queensland, belongs to the period of his justly celebrated solo show at Sydneys Macquarie Galleries the exhibition sold out in just ten minutes!

Fairweather started work on the paintings for this important exhibition sometime in January 1964 and completed them in March 1964. They formed the basis of the final twelve paintings that formed the exhibition Ian Fairweather: The Drunken Buddha at Macquarie Galleries at 19 Bligh Street Sydney from Wednesday 12 to Monday 24 May 1965. 1

Given its astonishing sales record, the exhibition was considered to be a resounding success and attracted very positive published reviews from the insightful artist James Gleeson, the lucid Art Gallery of New South Wales curator Daniel Thomas and the highly respected critic Elwyn Lynn. 2. The paintings in the exhibition are compositionally striking and all their colours are toned down in subtle overlapping planes that are overlaid with broad linear calligraphic strokes of darker pigment. All that is missing in the present study, created during the same period, is the uppermost layer of darker lines. As such the painting offers a valuable insight into Fairweathers technique and painterly approach.

Much of the visual appeal of Fairweathers art so often rests upon his subtle use of layered surfaces of paint, often in slightly varied tones and textures. The optical effect that is achieved is somewhat like that often found on the splattered and weathered walls of Oriental temples and village houses. These invariably show a patina that is naturally modulated its daubs reflect time and usage and often suggest forms and patterns in a type of free-flowing and interacting figure and ground associations much like that which is found in Figures - Study.

Also, what is interesting in this painting is how closely Fairweather, though he was never an expressionist, approached the lyrical abstractions of the American Abstract Expressionist artists Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) and Mark Tobey (1890-1976).

Fairweathers painting shows four vaguely totem-like standing figures that seem to emerge from an indeterminate background, which is over-painted with broadly applied patches of red and grey pigment. The whole painting presents as a visual mesh with scumbled muted colours and graphic marks, as might be seen in hurriedly pasted poster images on a faded wall or weathered billboard. The paintings loose linear brushwork is not urgent or emotion laden and its non-perspectival visual flatness is typical of many Asian village mural formats; the work also has the compositional overallness and edge-to-edge visual interest that are such consistent characteristics of Fairweathers mature paintings.

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. It is worth recalling that he was the first Australian artist to adopt and display what might be called a Pacific Rim aesthetic sensibility. His itinerant life in the area provided him with a lexicon of appropriate forms and a visual vocabulary that his artistic mind concertinaed into highly original paintings that have always been deeply admired and collected by the most discerning of buyers.

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

1. There is only one surviving copy of the catalogue of this exhibition in public libraries in Australia: see State Library of New South WalesMitchell Library Archives, Sydney; collection of catalogues for exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney held 1925-1986. Location: Mitchell Library 759.29/5 SET box 3 1960-1965. The exhibition of twelve works was held to coincide with the publication of the artists book Fairweather, I., The Drunken Buddha, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1965. Macquarie Galleries moved from 19 Bligh Street to 40 King Street Sydney on 24 January 1966.

2. See the following reviews: James Gleeson, His painting has the spirit of China , The Sun, Sydney, 12 May 1965; Anon., Fairweather at Macquarie, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 12 May 1965; James Gleeson, Fusing art forms, The Sun-Herald, Sydney, 16 May 1965; Daniel Thomas, The Serenity of Fairweather, Sunday Telegraph, 16 May 1965; Elwyn Lynn, The Move is East, The Australian, Sydney, 22 May 1965.



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.

Fairweather, I., The Drunken Buddha, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1965.

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.

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, 7 July 2010.

Renshaw, J., Detachment and Triumph, The Australian, 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, 16 May 1965.


We use our own and third party cookies to enhance your experience of our site, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policy.