Thursday, January 3, 2013

Artist Ian Fairweather and “Fair Weather” by Art Farmer: The Painter as Jazz Musician

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Painting is to me something of a tightrope act; it is between representation and that other thing … whatever that is. Painting is an inner compulsion, so self-consuming that it leaves no time for anything else.”
- Ian Fairweather

For many Jazz musicians, making the music is also an “inner compulsion” that “…leaves no time for anything else.” Why else would one choose to play Jazz? Certainly not for the money.

I like to combine looking at art with listening to Jazz.

The fleetingness and ephemeral sense of making Jazz has always caused me to see colors, designs, images of buildings, faces of people. Perhaps such visualizations help to make the music more “tangible?”

Maybe there really is a subconscious correlation between musical notation and artistic renderings; an aspect of Jung’s “collective unconscious” at work?

Or maybe it is just the combination of two of Life’s most beautiful gifts – the gift of creating inspiring and interesting art with the gift of creating uplifting and emotionally gratifying music – that holds an attraction for me.

Painters and Jazz musicians are faced with the daunting task of creating in the moment.

Of course, painters can re-work their paintings, but most prefer to compose their work as a linear process, perhaps building up areas of the canvas with additional colors or shadings or details at a later time. Sometimes they paint over their work or even destroy it.

But usually, once the painting is done, “it’s done.” The burst of inspiration and energy that brought about its creation dissipates and the painter moves on to the next flash from the muse.

Most Jazz musicians play a solo once and then “it’s gone.” Creating in space or time is different for them as what they improvise elapses in time and can’t be reclaimed or re-worked.

And yet, as is often the case when reviewing alternate takes to tracks that have been issued on a recording, Jazz musicians essentially hear and play the same solo with a few revisions as that is the way in which they were hearing the music on that particular day.

Whatever dynamic is involved, a recent holiday gift reminded me of the following book review about the work of the artist Ian Fairweather [1891-1974]. And a re-reading of it prompted the title of this piece, the concept of the relationship between art and music that it reflects on and the combining of a slide montage of images of Ian Fairweather’s work with an audio-track of trumpeter Art Farmer performing tenor saxophonist Benny Golson’s Jazz standard – Fair Weather [Bill Evans, piano; Addison Farmer, bass; Dave Bailey, drums].

I know; I know. The juxtaposition of “Fairweather,” the artist, with a musician whose first name is “Art” and who performs a tune entitled “Fair Weather” is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps if I promise not to do it again, you can just go with it this time?

Here’s the review of the revised and reprinted book about Ian Fairweather from The Economist that started all of this.

[And, should you wish to view more of the same, I’ve also reprised a few of my previous efforts at blending artwork and Jazz in the sidebar of the blog].

© -The Economist [4/16/2009], copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“A STRANGE shy man with a cultured voice but almost penniless stepped ashore in Melbourne in 1934 and unrolled some drawings tied up in a singlet. “I was absolutely staggered,” remembered the first person to view them. “I was dumbfounded at the beauty of those things.”

Ian Fairweather was an artist of exceptional force and originality who, until his death in 1974, produced paintings that merged the diverse influences of cubism, aboriginal art and Chinese calligraphy. An art critic, Robert Hughes, believed that “the emotional range and sheer breathtaking beauty” of Fairweather's finest pieces, such as “Epiphany”, surpassed all other Australian paintings.

In Fairweather [Sydney, Australia: Murdock, 2009] a handsome book of biography and colour reproductions (first published in 1981 but now greatly expanded and altered) Murray Bail goes a step further: “There is nothing like these paintings in Australian art—or anywhere else.” Yet who was this pathologically reclusive artist?

Mr Bail, a prize-winning novelist who wrote Eucalyptus, is a critic parsimonious with his enthusiasms, but he has devoted many years to beating Fairweather out of the bush that was the artist's preferred habitat. A self-appointed vagrant who was “much travelled but unworldly”, Fairweather was born in Scotland, the youngest of nine children of a surgeon-general in the Indian army, and spent his first ten years in the care of Scottish aunts. After an adolescence in Jersey, he joined the army but was captured in France at the start of the first world war, passing some of his happiest years as a prisoner-of-war. He then studied at the Slade school of art in London, a favourite pupil of Henry Tonks, an artist who found him “profoundly melancholy”. From then on, “he avoided the art world like a plague”.

Few artists, Mr Bail demonstrates, can have enjoyed such poverty in such inhospitable surroundings. Fairweather worked as a farmhand in Canada, a road-inspector in Shanghai and a bush-cutter in Australia, living variously in a concrete-mixer and an abandoned patrol boat (Darwin), a converted cinema (Brisbane), an empty goat dairy (Cairns) and a tent (Bribie Island).

Patrick White, an Australian writer who once visited him, drew on him for the painter in his novel The Vivisector, but in his dogged modesty and solitariness Fairweather more closely resembled White's desert explorer in Voss. Whenever he saw anyone approach, he rushed into the bush and hid. “Hell for Fairweather was other people,” writes Mr Bail.

A perfectionist who painted at night by the light of a hurricane lamp, Fairweather destroyed much of his art. The 500 or so paintings and drawings that remain are intensely felt, unsettling and resonate with “a searching necessity”. The act of painting was the thing: “It gives me the same kind of satisfaction that religion, I imagine, gives to some people.” He didn't much care what happened to his work afterwards, to the extent of sometimes disowning it, or even not recognising it.”