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When he died in 1974 after a long period of self-imposed austerity and improvisation on Bribie Island, Queensland, Ian Fairweather was at the apex of his fame. He had been called ‘our greatest painter’, and his works were keenly sought by galleries, collectors and artists.
Born in 1891 in Scotland, Fairweather had lived a peripatetic life, forever seeking the right place to settle. He was a prodigious and idiosyncratic letter writer—wryly documenting for friends and family members his travels, his struggles with his painting and Chinese translations, and the changing conditions on Bribie, as well as commenting on literature and world affairs.
Seven hundred of the painter’s letters are known to be in existence, and in their selection Claire Roberts and John Thompson have created the definitive volume of Fairweather’s correspondence: the closest thing to an autobiography of one of Australia’s most important and enduring artists.
‘Fairweather’s heroic task as an artist, and “lonely abnormal individual”, was to keep the world—of place, weather, family, his dealers, and a few fellow artists who were friends—both within reach and at a manageable distance. Scrupulously edited, the letters in which he did this, with all their paranoid anxieties, and grumps and prejudices, are both comic and engagingly human. Meanwhile the works are always quietly behind him in the dark.’