"...but if some of the work of younger gay and lesbian artists in this year's Mardi Gras seems banal, and the explicit sexuality both boring and distasteful..." Joanna Mendelssohn, 'The Australian', 5 February 1994, from the suite Rainbow aphorism
05 Sep 1952 - 25 May 1995
David McDiarmid came to ‘fine art’ from the world of fashion and fabric design. During the 1970s he made badges and posters for the gay liberation movement, while in private was making trippy designs that have never been publicly displayed but which clearly find an echo in later works such as this. In 1976 he exhibited with Hogarth Gallery, then one of the avant-garde centres for Australian art. The works he displayed – collages of found photographs with watercolour and gold paint framed in gold – explored gay sexuality and protested legal restrictions on the public expression of homo-sexuality; this may have been the first public exhibition of expressly gay political art in Australia.
In the 1980s McDiarmid spent time in New York, where he associated with the black and Hispanic gay communities. He also became involved in the graffiti art movement, often including graffiti-style references in his fabrics and posters. At this time he was enthusiastically producing costumes, prints and mardi gras floats which celebrated gay culture as a genuine alternative in America. It was against this background that the AIDS crisis became critical to modern life around the world and it was to this that McDiarmid now turned his attention.
In 1995, the year of McDiarmid’s death, he was invited to make a work for Australian Perspecta at the AGNSW, his first commission from a major museum. McDiarmid created a gigantic ‘queer’ flag to be positioned at the centre of the pediment over the entrance to the gallery, shot through with psychedelic colours that glowed dramatically in the lights. The central circle of the Q was positioned in a triangular banner that fitted snugly into the tympanum. The triangle lent another symbolic dimension to the target of the Q, translating the classical facade into a sexual allegory. McDiarmid had always been interested in homosexual readings of art history; now he was able to re-badge the art institution itself.
These poster images from his ‘Rainbow aphorism’ and ‘S/M aphorism’ series capture some of the wit that characterises the feminist works of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer. They are in a tradition of political artworks that employ text but they are also brilliantly visual, drawing as they do on his early 1970s psychedelic paintings while at the same time declaring the queer rainbow manifesto. They address the tragedy of AIDS without sentimentality but with courageous flare and decorative aplomb.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
colour xerox print mounted on craftboard
36.5 x 27.5 x 1.3 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of the Estate of David McDiarmid 1998
Not on display
© David McDiarmid. Licensed by Copyright Agency
Shown in 1 exhibition
See you at the barricades, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 May 2015–29 Nov 2015
Referenced in 2 publications
Anthony Bond, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Imagining the body', pg.246-289, Sydney, 2006, 278 (colour illus.).
See you at the barricades, Sydney, 2015, 19 (colour illus.), 46.