David Fairbairn is painting ageing and companionship


David Fairbairn’s deeply felt, emotive portraits are a soulful meditation on ageing and companionship. These are perhaps long-time themes for the widely respected artist, yet in moving from single portraits to double portraits for Drawn Together, he has brought new dimensions to his ongoing study of intimacy. For him, the process of creating portraits with two subjects allows “more scope for a psychological examination and interaction between the personalities”.

In some of Fairbairn’s recent works, for the series Double Lives, the two subjects depicted are none other than Fairbairn himself and his partner, the artist Suzanne Archer—the drawings became an exploration of new emotional ground.

“I believe it is not that common for a male artist to express the intimacy of a relationship in a substantial body of drawings, paintings and prints,” says Fairbairn, who lives and works in Wedderburn, New South Wales. “While I have made works [that feature] my partner extending back to the early 1980s, this is the first time I have made work that includes both of us in such personal poses. What distinguishes these works is the familiarity and unique insights generated by a relationship that extends back more than three decades.”

While these particular drawings are rooted in Fairbairn’s personal life, there is an undoubted universality to the exhibition. One can’t help being affected by the softness and vulnerability that Fairbairn channels through his figures. “The works are intensive and obsessive observations of ordinary men and women in their later years,” he says. “Many of them evolve over a long period of time, mimicking the same checks, adjustments and redirections as the lives of the sitters. They also reflect my own ageing process and pose many larger questions about the nature of mortality.”

Drawn Together
David Fairbairn
Hawkesbury Regional Gallery
5 August—16 October

This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith