The Man who Became an Iconic Australian Artist
I remember Ian as the guy who got on a leaky raft and tried to float across the Timor Sea to Indonesia. I probably amongst others at the time thought he had a few ‘roos loose in his top paddock as he nearly died in the effort. But I am not here to go on about his eccentricities as much as his devotion to and skill as an artist.
Here is the basic information about Ian from Wikipaedia:
“Ian Fairweather was an Australian painter. Fairweather was born in Scotland in 1891 and arrived in Melbourne in February 1934. He is considered one of the greatest Australian painters of all time, combining western and Asian influences in his work.” He died in May 1974 on Bribie Island, Queensland, Australia.
Many may remember Ian also as the hermit like artist who lived in a makeshift hut on Bribie Island in Queensland. He lived there until his death mostly in very basic conditions until he was given a more permanent building which took him years to move into, as he didn’t like it at all.
Ian seems to have been a lone soul for most of his life, starting with is childhood in the care of aunts then in the Jersey Islands wandering around teaching himself to draw and paint.
Later in life he joined the army and served in WW1, not the best place for a character likes his. He spent 4 years as a POW and he seems to have thrived better there than actually serving.
During the 1920s he attended the Slade School of Drawing and his skills excelled. After this he spent a lot of years not being settled in any one place. He went from one country to another learning more skills along the way. He was very influenced by Asian art in China as well as Bali and felt very at home with their different treatment and attitudes to artists as part of their society.
When eventually arriving and living in Australia, I think he felt so constricted by the very western and conforming nature of life especially in Melbourne at the time that he was unable to cope. After another bout of travelling and more military service in India he was back in Australia. In Melbourne he was still not happy, proven by taking on a project which he abandoned only to flee the state.
Ian really found himself and became the artist he wanted to be on Bribie Island. The solitude and the surrounding animals and bushland allowed him to do what he wanted, to paint. This is where all his experiences and his observation of his surroundings came out in a huge amount of artworks. It is just sad that he painted with such poor materials and he packed them so badly for shipment to exhibitions that we have little of them surviving now intact. I am not sure if Ian really understood how influential his art was to many other artist at the time or those who came later. His work became very collectable and was of major interest not only in Australia but also overseas.
As Bribie Island was connected to the mainland and people began living closer and the tourists came along this affected Ian along with ageing and his health deteriorating. Along the way he lost the will and the spark to paint which I suspect was the beginning of his end.
A solitary man with a devine spark in his eyes and a wonder about the natural world around him, I can understand his inability to cope with humanity and his desire to paint in peace. The main message I took from his words were from a question he was asked.
“How do you live your life?”
“I paint, dammit!”
I think that says it all.