Night life 1962 inscribed '"NIGHTLIFE" / BY IAN FAIRWEATHER' verso gouache and synthetic polymer paint on cardboard laid down on hardboard 67.3 x 93.3cm (26 1/2 x 36 3/4in).
PROVENANCE Treania Smith (Mrs Clive Bennett), 1963 Jack Kohane, Melbourne Niagara Galleries, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1989
EXHIBITED Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, August 1962, cat. no. 7 VII Bienal de Säo Paulo, Parque Ibirapuera, Säo Paulo, September - December 1963, cat. no. 10, titled Vida Nocturna (label attached verso) Fairweather: A Retrospective Exhibition, touring exhibition, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 3 June 4 July 1965; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 21 July - 22 August 1965; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 9 September - 10 October 1965; National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 26 October - 21 November 1965; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 9 December 1965 - 16 January 1966; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 10 February - 13 March 1966, cat. no. 56 Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 1989
LITERATURE The Age, 9 June 1962, p. 17 Melbourne Herald, 16 August 1962, p. 6 Sydney Morning Herald, 16 August 1962, p. 2 Sun-Herald, Sydney, 19 August, 1962, p. 43 Daniel Thomas, 'Australia', VII Bienal de Säo Paulo, exh. cat., Parque Ibirapuera, Säo Paulo, 1963, pp. 53-5, pl. 4 (illus.) Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September 1965, p. 1 Bulletin, 4 December 1965, p. 41 Laurie Thomas, Fairweather: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1965, cat. 56 Nourma Abbott-Smith, Ian Fairweather, A Profile of a Painter, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1974, p. 136 Murray Bail, Fairweather, Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2009, pp. 179-180 (illus. incomplete state), 194, 224
Night life 1962 was considered by Ian Fairweather to be one of his best works and was chosen specifically by him for exhibition at the VII Bienal de Sao Paulo. 1 Earlier, in August 1962 it was shown at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney, in an exhibition now considered a high point in the artist's career, with over half the works eventually entering public collections. The work was bought by Treania Smith (Bennett), the perspicacious owner (along with Mary Turner) of the Macquarie Galleries, and a keen collector.
And yet it is not an easy painting. Three faces, eyes fixed wide, stare straight ahead, challenging the viewer to engage or look away. Other works from this period all share this same unsettling gaze; all have a disquieting presence. Painted on Bribie Island where he regularly worked around the clock with the help of hurricane lamps which, he said, gave a gentle light his 'night life' meant work, not socializing.
'Well my real working used to be to...make studies from various things I saw, but in time I got interested only in a few subjects...The problem was to do one subject, and so it practically boiled down to that. By one subject I mean... people.' 2
It is something of a paradox: an artist known to prefer solitude whose main subject matter was people, but he painted the people of his imagination, characters that populated his mind as surely as a novelist is inhabited by their own creations. During the day he might be visited by one or more of his close circle of friends other artists such as Molvig, Daws, Olley, the Churchers, or Laurie Thomas, director of Queensland Art Gallery. Rudy Komon would visit from Sydney, bringing wine and whisky. Unwelcome visitors strangers and family were given short shrift. 3 He worked hard, like most artists; his art came first, before anything or anybody, and his material needs were few. 4
What is not in doubt was his strange family life: there was a disconnection that was never bridged. 5 While his childhood at Jersey allowed him a great deal of freedom, that eventually came to an end, and, at nineteen, he was living at home with his father (eighty-two and blind), a distant, disapproving mother who wanted him to join the army, and James, his thirty-four year old bachelor brother; none approved of his artistic ambitions but everything else he attempted during this time made him utterly miserable. 6
Even as a young man Fairweather was happiest when drawing and painting. Staying with his young nieces, Sheila and Helga, and their governess at the nearby island of Sark one summer, he often worked into the night, one time waking up after falling asleep on his palette, his hair matted with dried paint. 7
Many of Fairweather's works dwell on the broad theme of 'family', almost as if his whole life he struggled to understand what had happened to him and where he 'fitted'. Could it have been memories of his mother and father which haunted him at night on Bribie Island, and is the third person in Night life Fairweather himself? 8
Dr Candice Bruce
1 Murray Bail, Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney 1981, p. 180, Shalimar and Portrait of the Artist were also exhibited 2 Fairweather in an interview with Hazel de Berg, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1 April 1963 [http://nla.gov.au/nla.oh-vn164436] 3 Nourma Abbott-Smith, Ian Fairweather: Profile of an Artist, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1978, pp. 134-5. One of Fairweather's brothers, Arthur, visited him on Bribie Island but the visit was not a happy one. Fairweather said that all Arthur wanted to talk about was how much money he had made. 4 His disastrous raft voyage to Timor helped feed his reputation as an eccentric. 5 Interview, 29 August 1975 by Robert Walker with Sheila Barlow and Helga McNamara, in Steven Alderton (ed), Ian Fairweather: an artist of the 21st Century, exh. cat., Lismore Regional Gallery, Lismore, 2006, pp. 52-56 6 Nourma Abbott-Smith, Ian Fairweather: Profile of an Artist, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1978, p. 81, 1911 UK census. To the end of her life in 1944, his mother misunderstood him, urging him to give up the 'cinema' and lead 'a healthy, honest life'. 7 Alderton, op. cit., p. 54 8 Paintings with three figures are common throughout his work