‘A large part of the beauty of a picture,’ Matisse famously decreed, ‘arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium.’ Struggle is the dominant motif in Murray Bail’s study of Scottish-born painter Ian Fairweather, first essayed in 1981, now refashioned, updated, and handsomely repackaged.
In the chapter on Fairweather’s work of the late 1950s and early 1960s – when he had been living in Australia on and off for a couple of decades – we are told that his art ‘was always a struggle. Struggle over one painting or a group could go on for more than a year, and the process itself became part of the “subject”.’ Such investments of effort and time have, surely, been the lot of any number of painters at various stages of their careers. Even the frothiest-seeming confectioners (from Boucher to Ken Done) will have had their moments of angst. But there is undoubtedly something more compulsive, more overt, more distinctive about Fairweather’s creative struggles, incarnated as they are in the asceticism of his materials and the (most un-Matisselike) circumscriptions of his palette. Wilfully or otherwise, could the limits of any medium be so stretched?