The materials of Ian Fairweather: 1953-1974

Ian Fairweather | Composition 1 c1961 | Synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard | Gift of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2010. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Ian Fairweather, 1961/DACS. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2012

The image of the artist working in his Bribie Island hut was taken late in Ian Fairweather’s career. Due to ill health he had virtually stopped painting by 1972. This image, plus images taken in the 1960s show the artist working with many open tins of commercially made house paints. Paintings were either worked horizontally on a table or, as in this image, vertically on a home-made easel. The larger, late works from 1958 are characterised by a myriad of paint drips showing through in the underlayers, with drier brushstrokes over the top. The drips are likely to be from brushing on a fluid medium while the works are on an easel. You can see the residue of drips along the bottom edge of the easel in this photograph.

Ian Fairweather painting in his studio on Bribie Island, 1972 | National Archives of Australia: A6135, K24/11/72/1
Robert Walker, Australia 1922—2007 | Ian Fairweather (from ‘Hut’ series) 1966, printed 2006 | Gelatin silver photograph | Purchased 2007. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Robert Walker, 1966 /Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

How was Ian Fairweather’s choice of materials connected to Australian paint industry developments in the 1950s and 1960s? In an interview with oral historian Hazel de Berg in 1963 (Ian Fairweather interviewed by Hazel de Berg in 1963 and 1965, in the Hazel de Berg collection [sound recording], held at the National Library of Australia), Fairweather revealed that he had become allergic to oil paint in 1939, and did not use oils after this time. Murray Bail in his book Fairweather (2009, Murdoch Books) theorises that Fairweather only started painting his late larger paintings from 1958 — almost 20 years later — when water based synthetic polymer paint dispersions were available to him. While on Bribie Island, he bought many of his painting materials from the local hardware store. Recent research by conservators at QAGOMA has been to look at the question of what painting materials were available to Ian Fairweather while he was on Bribie Island.

Further information about the conservation work being undertaken can be found at Conservation of paintings of Ian Fairweather and also at the forthcoming symposium The Meaning of Materials in Modern and Contemporary Art to be held at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) on 10— 11 December 2012.


  1. I am fascinated with how these works are conserved. The materials used are so fragile and I wouldn’t have throught cardboard would be particularly resilient to light and movement. Great exhibition.