synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard mounted on composition board 144.5 h x 185.5 w
Australian painter Ian Fairweather (29 September 1891 – 20 May 1974) had the kind of extraordinary life story that demanded to be told in the form of (a now revised) biography: From his days as a PoW after being captured by Germans in France during the First World War, to a prestigious art school in London and leading a wandering existence, his is a rich story. Perhaps the most important time in this man's life were the twenty years of solitary existence he lived on remote Bribie Island, off the coast of Queensland. Among the still, dappled trees he spent these last years of his life painting. In this way he reminds me of an ascetic monk, spending his days in quiet reflection, a kind of tanned and hirsute desert father, painting recollections in a rough shack with whatever materials he had on hand. Often he would paint on newspaper, an art conservationist's worst nightmare. His work straddles abstraction, Aboriginal bark painting and Zen Buddhism, taking all his significant cultural and spiritual influences. The resulting work contains calligraphic lines which draw in and divide creating an effect almost like that of a church's stained glass. Suggestions of figures seem to emerge and disappear as on a spiritual plane, the dabs of coloured paint, asking for the viewer's contemplation and stillness. Often wavering between figurative painting and abstraction, Fairweather said, ‘It’s between representation and the other thing, whatever that is, and it’s difficult to keep one’s balance’. One feels that 'other thing' is a highly evolved sensitivity to the spiritual within the man. One story which has become almost as great as the legend himself. After WWII, in a kind of 'dark night of the soul' he constructed a simple raft and departed Darwin for Timor, almost perishing at sea and making headlines in Australia.
"Monastery may be considered a recollection of an experience many years before when the artist stayed briefly at a monastery near Beijing. He described it to his early biographer Nourma Abbott-Smith as a place of spirituality. He recalled that the snow outside covered the monastery while the inside was illuminated by hundreds of candlewicks floating in golden bowls, casting flickering shadows and softening the carved aspect of the statues. In a broader sense, as Murray Bail noted in his later book on the artist, Monasteryalso represents all monasteries, all contemplative silences and so summarises this serious artist’s obsessions."From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008