synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard on hardboard
105 x 74.6cm
Macquarie Galleries, Sydney;
Purchased from the above, private collection, Sydney
Macquarie Galleries, 1970, cat. 7.
Following schooling in Britain and Switzerland, Fairweather served in the First World War where he was captured and interned in a German POW camp. He passed the time learning to draw. Returning to the Hague after the armistice in 1918, he took up a four-year course of study at the Slade School in London under Henry Tonks, while spending his evenings learning Japanese and Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies at the University of London, which led him to question the primacy of the western visual tradition. During the 1930s and 40s Fairweather lived a nomadic existence, travelling extensively in Canada, China, Indonesia and Australia. From 1949 he also regularly exhibited at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney, where his work impacted local artists, including Tony Tuckson, whose own abstract painting has echoes of Fairweather’s calligraphic style.
By 1969 Fairweather was at the height of his investigations into pictorial abstraction. Composition with Figures is perhaps the finest of these late period works. The painting is an amalgamation of a lifetime of Fairweather’s combined experiences and explorations into art. It is also a celebration of the physical act of painting, which sustained Fairweather in his final years of self-imposed isolation. Drips of paint are visible throughout the work, culminating in a curtain of drips at the bottom of the canvas, which have been left unconcealed by the artist. A central group of figures, reduced to their barest forms and painted in simple cream lines, emerge from Fairweather’s multi-layered background. Using a limited colour palette in shades of navy, umber and cream, typical of this period, Fairweather’s signature layering upon layering of paint offers only hints of a hidden, earthy background.
Composition with Figures was painted on Bribie Island in 1969. This work was featured in the artist’s exhibition at Macquarie Galleries in 1970. In the view of Murray Bail this painting is Fairweather’s “last great painting.”1,2
1. Murray Bail, Fairweather, 2009, Murdoch Books, Sydney, p. 224-225
2. Essay provided by the Art Gallery of New South Wales