Ian Fairweather / Scotland/Australia 1891–1974 / Epiphany 1962 / Synthetic polymer paint on four sheets of cardboard on composition board / 139.6 x 203.2cm / Purchased 1962 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Ian Fairweather, 1962/DACS. Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

Ian Fairweather
Epiphany 1962

Not Currently on Display

The Christian celebration known as the Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the Three Wise Men, or Magi, visiting the infant Jesus. On hearing that the Magi are honouring the newborn King of the Jews, King Herod orders all male children under two years old to be killed; and in a dream, Joseph is warned by an angel to flee with his young family to safety in Egypt.

From left to right, the painting shows Herod, the Holy Family, the three Magi and, below them, the innocent children. Ian Fairweather has fused abstraction with calligraphic figure drawing, and his use of heavy black line over indigo gives the impression of stained glass, reminiscent of a cathedral.

Ian Fairweather was born in Scotland in 1891. His father encouraged him to join the British Army and, in June 1914, just two months after he was commissioned, Fairweather was captured by the German Army and sent to a prison camp. There, he studied Japanese, sketched, and illustrated the prisoners’ magazine. After the war, he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Leaving England in 1927, Fairweather travelled continually for nearly two decades, journeying to Canada, China, Indonesia, South America, the Philippines, Japan and Australia. In 1952, he attempted to cross the sea from Darwin to Timor on a raft, which turned into a perilous, 16-day solo journey that ended in Roti, Indonesia, from where he was deported to England.

When he returned to Australia in 1953, Fairweather retreated from society. He built a rudimentary hut on Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, and went on to produce his greatest works there until his death in 1974.

Discussion Questions

This painting tells a story about flight, the moment the Holy Family flees into Egypt. How does this story compare with families fleeing crisis and seeking refuge in foreign countries in today’s world?

Classroom Activities

Think of an allegory (a symbolic story) you would like to communicate through painting. Allow your work to be influenced by Fairweather’s rhythmic composition, style and approach. Working slowly and deliberately, build up several layers of coloured grounds. Overlay this with carefully selected iconography and images painted in an abstracted, calligraphic, figurative drawing style.