On Display: QAG, Gallery 11
Kite flying 1958, one of Ian Fairweather’s most significant works, gives a good indication of the artist’s approach to painting. Inspired by Chinese calligraphy, lines cross and re-cross the surface of the painting, leaving layers of underpainting exposed. Figures, kites and balloons dance in and out of focus in a fusion of shapes and colours.
The work is based on a 2000-year-old Chinese kite festival celebrating the protection of loved ones against misfortune. The festival commemorates the story of Huan Ching, a man from the Han period, who was warned by a sage to take his wife and children to the mountains. On this advice, he took his family kite flying and so escaped the massacre that befell their livestock. The fortune of this occasion is reflected in the painting’s joyous energy.
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.
1. Notice how the artist has used line to create a story in his painting. Why do you think he has used line in this way?
2. Discuss what Fairweather has been able to suggest to the viewer through this abstracted approach that a camera couldn’t convey.
1. Imagine the path of the string of a kite on a windy day. Working with a black oil pastel, trace the path of the kite string right across the page — don’t lift the crayon. Work your crayon right to the edges of the page, then change colour and draw the string of another kite. See how they might cross over or entangle. Change colours and repeat again. Now find some spaces between the lines to add a bird or other things you might see if you were flying a kite. Use a light, watery paint to fill in between the lines.
2. Paint a background of neutral colours on a sheet of paper. When dry, use Indian ink to capture the loose suggestion of a crowded group of figures. They could be playing sport, dancing or just relaxing. Use line and shape to create simple, imagined figures with just a few strokes of your brush.