Thursday, March 11, 2010

Paul Dorsey on Artist Barker Fairley

Barker Fairley by AY Jackson. 1920

AY Jackson by Barker Fairley, 1939

"I remember seeing an exhibition of paintings by Barker Fairley some 30 years ago and being positively unimpressed. They were a bleak, washed-out lot. Renewing contact recently with John and Gisela Sommer, at whose Gallery House Sol in smalltown Canada the show was held, prompted me to have another look.
And now I think I see the point."

Francis Sparshot, U of T, Associate Professor. Author of Structure of Aesthetics,
by Barker Fairley.1957.

"There’s something quite moving in the gaunt portraits and sparse landscapes, particularly the latter. Rather than washed-out, the scenes now seem blindingly bright to me. I wonder, too, if he was consciously stripping away the utensils of the scenery so that we could see the countryside fundamentally naked."

Dale Fields by Barker Fairley

“People keep asking me if painting is hard work,” he once said. “Painting isn’t work. Painting is making decisions. I make decisions, nothing more.”

There’s an interesting political sidebar to Fairley’s career as well: he and his first wife Margaret Adele were once ridden out of the USA on a rail, their reputations tarred and the Canadian government in no mood to help them remove the feathers.

Fairley, who was born a headmaster’s son in Britain in 1887 — in Barnsley, Yorkshire, in fact, just down the road from my hatchling nest in Lancashire — but who spent most of his life in Canada, was far better known in his time as one of the world’s foremost authorities on German literary beacons like Goethe. He was an academic through and through, a literary and art critic, author of many books, and only then, it seems, a painter.

It was well after he brought his scholarship to the German department at the University of Toronto that Fairley was prodded to take up a brush by one of his former students, Robert Finch, himself a painter as well as a poet.

He couldn’t have needed too much encouragement. By then he’d encountered all of the Group of Seven, though he’d missed out on Tom Thomson, their spiritual heart.

“I knew them all,” he told an interviewer. “I met Jimmie [JEH] MacDonald in the fall of 1917. I never met Tom Thomson, he had died a few months before.”

Fairley began by rendering landscapes in watercolour but, lamenting that “Canada has no tradition of portraits, no tradition of freely painted faces”, soon switched to the human physiognomy in oil (without ever abandoning landscapes)."

To be continued:
With appreciation to Paul Dorsey's Dali House.
Please click here to view Paul's Blogsite.

1 comment:

  1. The portrait of Mr. Fairly shown above is not by Mr. Jackson but by Mr. Fred Varley.


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