Claire Roberts: Fairweather and China

Claire-Roberts-Fairweather-and-ChinaWith Australia’s relationship with China in the spotlight now more than ever, a new book by Claire Roberts reminds us of the power of art to connect cultures and transcend politics.

Ian Fairweather was named by a leading art critic in 1962 as Australia’s ‘greatest painter’ and is one of the most significant twentieth-century artists to have worked in Australia.

After a life of wandering, including time spent in China, Bali and the Philippines, Fairweather settled on Bribie Island, off the coast of Queensland, where he built his own house.

Fairweather is exceptional among modern artists for his experience of Chinese life and culture. He lived and worked in China for extended periods, learnt Chinese and published a book-length translation of the popular Chinese novel The Drunken Buddha (1965).

From an early age Fairweather sought alternatives to art based on verisimilitude and single-point perspective. This led to a lifelong engagement with the principles of Chinese art and thought that profoundly shaped his own creative process.

Fairweather and China shows how central the China experience is to his emergence as a key transcultural figure, connecting British, European, Chinese and Australian art histories in new and visionary ways.

Drawing on letters, interviews and other archival materials to shed new light on Fairweather’s artistic practice, Claire Roberts, brings her own extensive knowledge of Chinese language and art to this absorbing re-examination of a revered artist.

Claire Roberts is an ARC Future Fellow, art historian and curator specialising in modern and contemporary Chinese art, and the cultural flows between Australia and Asia. She is Associate Professor of Art History and Curatorship in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Roberts’ curated exhibitions include Xiao Lu: Impossible Dialogue at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney; Go Figure: Contemporary Chinese Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; and Other Histories: Guan Wei’s Fable for a Contemporary World at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

Her books include Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong (Hong Kong University Press, 2010), Photography and China (Reaktion Books, 2013) and Ian Fairweather: A Life in Letters, edited with John Thompson (Text Publishing, 2019).

Fairweather and China is published by Melbourne University Publishing (The Miegunyah Press) and available from all leading book retailers including Booktopia.

Image: Fairweather and China – courtesy of Melbourne University Publishing