Your reimagined Australian Collection brings together art from different times and across cultures. After 120 years of building the Collection, there are many stories to tell of traversal and encounter, we focus on this theme as we continue with our series on Australian art.
Scottish-born artist Ian Fairweather’s Lights, Darwin Harbour 1957, generously on loan from a private collection, recalls the moment he left Australia in 1952 on a homemade raft. The journey — after 16 days on the open sea — ended on a beach on Indonesia’s Roti Island and inspired New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson to create The gift (from Argonauts of the Timor Sea) 2004–06, a ‘replica’ of the raft based on various accounts, including written descriptions.
Fairweather’s goal was to return to Britain, which he eventually did, but in 1953 he came back to Australia, finally settling on Bribie Island. There, he completed some of his greatest works, including the religious painting Gethsemane 1958, recently gifted to the Collection by Philip Bacon AM. Stevenson’s raft is a touchstone for the many journeys and encounters in this display. It resonates not only with Fairweather’s singular mission, but also with Australia’s place in the world, and the complex, continuing history of those who have arrived on and departed from its shores.
Connections across the water date back further than colonisation. For hundreds of years, Macassan traders from Sulawesi, Indonesia, travelled to Australia over the Timor Sea to trade and share knowledge with northern Australian Aboriginal people. The influence of this exchange can be seen in works such as Ngaymil/Dathiwuy artist Larrtjanga Ganambarr’s Balirlira and the Macassans c.1958, and Anindilyakwa artist Gulpitja’s Bara, the north-west wind 1948.