‘Ian Fairweather: Late works 1953-74’ is the first exhibition of the paintings of this eminent artist in a major institution since the Queensland Art Gallery’s acclaimed retrospective in 1994 and the National Gallery of Australia’s show of his drawings in 1997.
An important theme of the exhibition is Fairweather’s interest in Chinese art, language and culture, manifested in works that evoke the simplicity and strength of Chinese characters. Two paintings are from the series of twelve illustrations Fairweather painted for his 1965 translation of The Drunken Buddha, a well-known Chinese novel based on the life of Tao-chi, also known as Chi-tien (1148–1209), a sage well-known for his misadventures. These are Chi-tien stands on his head 1964 and Chi-tien drunk – carried home 1964.
Chi-tien stands on his head 1964 from the collection of The University of Queensland accompanies the episode in which Tao-chi, after repeatedly falling off the prayer seats in the cloud hall, stands on his head on one of the seats. He does this, he explains, because ‘With the head on the ground one cannot fall on it’. After this, the monks stop calling him Tao-chi (way of salvation), and change his name to Chi-tien (salvation by overturning).
Chi-tien drunk – carried home 1964 recently donated by the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts shows the crowd watching Shen-wan carrying the drunken priest back to the monastery. After leaving the house of Mrs Shen and feeling tired, Chi-tien lay down by the Chun-ching Gate. Passers-by found him and gathered around; when his friend Shen-wan heard of it, he hurried to where Chi-tien was lying in a drunken stupor. Shen-wan, bent like a camel, then carried the drunken priest back to the monastery.
According to Fairweather, the publication proved a lengthy and challenging task; he painstakingly translated the text using a dictionary, and the subsequent transcription and editing was completed with the assistance of a number of typists. Hint: If you’re very lucky, you can still come across this publication in second hand book stores.
‘Ian Fairweather: Late works 1953-74’ is on display until 3 March 2013. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see the outstanding contributions of one of Australia’s most accomplished and intriguing artists. More information can be found in the exhibition catalogue available from the Gallery Store or online.
Rebecca Joyce is Curatorial Volunteer, and Angela Goddard is Curator, Australian Art to 1975