Ian Fairweather, On the Lake, 1964
Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) is considered one of the greatest Australian painters. His initial artistic impulse was borne out of his time in a German prisoner of war camp during World War I, where he was permitted to study drawing and Japanese. After the war, he received formal art training and also studied Asian cultures. Upon completing his studies, Fairweather traveled significantly, from Canada, Bali, Shanghai, and China, before settling in Australia. Fairweather's art is the result of his many varied experiences, a combination of his reaction to war and his love of Asian culture and spirituality, Buddhism in particular, as seen in his best known painting, 1961's Monastery. On The Lake is one of thirteen large canvases that Fairweather created to accompany his own translation of the Chinese tales of Chi-Tien, a thirteenth century Buddhist monk known for his mischief and his constant drunkenness. The publishing company would only print the book with illustrations, never expecting the 73-year-old Fairweather to produce such an extensive collection of large canvases. Another piece from the series is Chi-tien stands on his head Fairweather is considered an abstract artist, but the clearly defined boat in this piece somewhat blurs that designation and forces the viewer to think about the literal implications of this lake. Certainly the blue coloration can suggest water, but the abstraction and disjunction of the surface elicits deeper resonances. Perhaps this is a psychological lake, one that must be traversed to achieve peace or understanding. Fairweather commented that he felt about painting the way other people felt about religion, and it is not hard to see him exploring the deep questions and truths about existence in his beautiful works.