David Fairbairn

D a v i d   F a i r b a i r n

Study T.K. No3

Most of my portraits are intensive and obsessive observations of ordinary men and women in their later years. Nevertheless, their narratives are both complex and varied.

The resonance of these subjects emerges through an emotional charge of distorted and exaggerated lines, the process of deconstruction and reconfiguration distilling the particular stance or characteristic gesture of the sitter. Alluding to a topographical map, the active surfaces of these close–ranged images encourages the viewer to scan slowly across the contours of the form & effectively pulls the gaze endlessly inwards. At a glance, the drawings might appear to be frenetic and kinetic renditions of the sitter but, given time, the images resolve themselves into what I hope is a far more quiet and contemplative study of the human spirit.

In this respect, while the portraits could be seen as a series of performative marks or gestures made in an instant of time, the intention is much more to do with measured time. A meditation and engagement with the subject over many weeks, months and years even. The drawings, then, have undergone the same checks, adjustments & redirections as the lives of the sitters.

David Fairbairn was born in Zambia, Southern Africa, in 1949, his father having emigrated from Yorkshire to Zimbabwe in the 1920’s. Until the age of nine, he lived largely in West Africa, where his father worked as a mining engineer. As a child, Fairbairn attended a public boarding school in England, Kings School, Canterbury, together with his two brothers, and travelled home for the holidays.

As a young adult, Fairbairn frequently travelled between England and Africa. In 1969, he returned to South Africa to attend art school, studying at the Durban Technical College. Returning to England in 1970, he studied at the West Surry College of Art and Design in Farnham, gaining his degree in painting and printmaking in 1974, and subsequently obtained a Postgraduate Certificate in Painting, in 1977, from the Royal Academy Schools, London. Fairbairn has taught art for over 20 years and currently teaches at the National Art School.

In 1981, Fairbairn’s travels bought him to Australia, where he met and married fellow artist, Suzanne Archer, in 1985. While living at Balmain, Sydney, Fairbairn and Archer’s friendship with Roy Jackson and John Peart, two artists living on the Wedderburn plateau, prompted their move to Wedderburn in 1988, where they built a house and studios and have lived for the past thirty years.

He has held over twenty solo exhibitions, and been included in more than seventy group exhibitions throughout Australia.

Fairbairn has received in excess of 40 awards, including the Dobell Drawing Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales (1999); the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize (2002); Kedumba Drawing Prize (2009) and the Redgate Gallery Residency, Beijing, China (2014). He has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize on seven occasions since 1983 and a finalist in the Dobell Drawing Prize thirteen times since 1996

His work is represented in public, corporate and private collections, including the Australian National Gallery, Canberra; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale, NSW; Doug Moran Art Foundation Collection; Latrobe Valley Arts Centre; Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and the Faber-Castell Drawing Collection.

David Fairbairn was elected a member of the Australian Watercolour Institute in 2014.

Copyright © Australian Watercolour Institute