For most of my life, I considered my mother to be the creative parent. Her hands were amazing; she was an incredibly talented piano teacher, cake-icer, tatter, crocheter, sewer, folk artist, china doll maker, stuffed animal maker, and so on.
On the other hand, my father was an engineer, and I saw him as practical and pragmatic. However, after he retired, he took up painting and showed some raw, albeit naïve, talent.
He started with watercolour. Many people who take up this medium without instruction mistake watercolour for poster or acrylic paint, putting so much paint on the paper that it becomes a solid opaque colour. The beauty of watercolour is that it is meant to be put on in thin translucent layers, which is quite challenging to master. At the time, I had done some watercolour work but didn’t have much of a grasp of it myself, so I was not capable of giving him much direction. I did, however, have a good understanding and feel for oil painting, so I suggested he give that a crack.
He took to it and became quite enthralled, and he became quite prolific. It was one of my greatest pleasures to have a joint show at Jan Murphy’s Gallery of landscapes we painted together in the foothills around Killarney.
After he passed away a few years ago, I found an old manuscript that he had illustrated when he was a young man. It had been put aside to follow his chosen career (chosen by his father, not by him) to support his growing family. I realised he had concealed this mode of creative expression his whole life.
I never saw him lament the loss of those creative years. It seemed enough for him to spend his retirement years painting. Maybe he was happy with the balance he eventually achieved; 40 years of responsibility rounded out by 30 years of indulgence in his own passion. That said, during his career, he did display his creativity in many aspects of his career and life.
The essence of creative success is the inherent duality of the creative and the pragmatic. It is not just about being creative and having great ideas; it is also equally about the pragmatic and practical aspects.
While my mother took every opportunity to express her creativity, she was also incredibly pragmatic by necessity. She managed the household of 5 kids, a dog, two cats, 6 guinea pigs, a budgie, 100 white mice and four horses.
My parents’ qualities, individually and as a couple, balanced the creative and the pragmatic. I call this PRAGMATIVITY. Pure creative thinking is on one end of the scale, with pragmatic thinking on the other. This is a sliding scale, as in reality, none of us can live in a purely pragmatic or strictly creative space for any length of time. (unless, of course, you are doing your tax or experimenting with Psilocybin)
Throughout my life, I have often been asked whether I am related to Ian Fairweather. Our professions overlapped, so I encountered many people who knew Dad. Still, another Ian Fairweather, a famous abstract painter from Bribie Island. Half the time, the question related to the other Ian Fairweather.
It got particularly confusing when Dad started painting, even more so when he began to look like his namesake with his big bushy white beard.
At an Ian Fairweather exhibition cocktail party at the Queensland Art Gallery many years ago, I was repeatedly asked whether I was related. I explained, “Yes, my father is Ian, but he was an engineer, and now he’s a painter, but no, not this Ian Fairweather.” After an hour of protracted and unnecessary explanations, I just told the truth: “Yes, Ian Fairweather is my father.”
I felt vindicated when, sometime later, an article promoting the exhibition in a local newspaper mistakenly included a photo of Dad.
Every one of us is creative, though, for various reasons, our creative expression is either subdued, confused, ignored or concealed.
This article is an edited excerpt from my upcoming book, Bald Brave and a bit Quirky.
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