Not On Display

About the work

Ian Fairweather's parents, who already had eight children, lived in India and moved to Scotland for his birth. When only a few months old he was left in a great aunt's care until he was almost eleven and this early separation from his own family may have been responsible for his restless and solitary life in later years.

He was commissioned in the British army, taken prisoner during the 1914-18 war and began his study of art while a captive. After the war he studied at the Slade School in London, also becoming interested in Chinese calligraphy, an influence sustained throughout his painting life.

His wanderings began in parts of Europe, then Canada and Alaska, to Shanghai and through China, and eventually, in 1932, to Australia.

His first Australian exhibition was in Melbourne, in 1934, but soon he was on the move again, always in poverty, whether in the Philippines, Shanghai, Peking or Brisbane.

In the 1939-45 war he served again in the British army, as a captain, this time in India, but left the army to work for a while in an advertising agency, then found his way once more to Brisbane and Bribie Island in 1946.

Again the need to move overcame him and six years later, at sixty, he built a raft in Darwin, intending to sail to Bali. The raft collapsed on the shore of Portuguese Timor and he was deported, subsequently returning to London.

Back in Australia once more, he established himself at Bribie Island, in Moreton Bay, where a Polynesian-style hut was to be his home for over twenty years.

His work had received some praise but gradually came to be recognised as a unique achievement, bringing together aspects of oriental and occidental art in a highly individual style.

From 1956 his paintings were acclaimed and acquired by State galleries, by the Tate in London, the Mertz Collection in America and many private collections, but he continued to live in seclusion without the amenities considered necessary by most people.

In 1965 a Chinese novel was published, 'Drunken Buddha', which he had translated and illustrated with paintings. In the same year his success was sealed by a retrospective exhibition which toured throughout Australia.

The conditions under which he worked and his disregard for his materials have led to a need for careful conservation of the paintings of this singular personality, who died at the age of eighty-three at his island retreat.

Monsoon is one of Fairweather's finest paintings. It was included in the Australian Painting Today exhibition, which toured Europe in 1964-65 and was shown in all States in the artist's retrospective exhibition of 1965-66. The title, referring to an element of nature, is evocative of the physical reaction to it and evidently describes Fairweather's intention, because he said that the painting 'looks like lightning'.

The relationship to Asian calligraphy is strong, though translated into brush strokes of intuitive individuality.

Despite the subdued black, tones of grey and suggestions of yellow, the painting is full of life and light, creating a kaleidoscope of dazzling tones. The stormy downpour of the monsoon saturates our senses as the picture takes us into the artist's experience. Painted on thin boards, their horizontal edges break the pattern, almost giving an effect of reflection.

This could be termed an entirely abstract painting but the communication is vivid and physical. It is a remarkable performance of controlled, inevitable
sequence from a man who was seventy when he painted it.

Ella Fry, Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

Reference: Letter to Macquarie Galleries in 1962 quoted by Murray Bail in article commissioned by Art Gallery of Western Australia for one of the Gallery's Bulletins.
Artist/Maker and role
synthetic polymer paint and gouache on card (lined onto hardboard)
98.3 x 188.9 cm (sight)
Credit line
Purchased 1983
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the paintings in our collection.