Rainbow Aphorisms

David McDiarmid

Studio Voltaire presents David McDiarmid’s Rainbow Aphorisms, a series of public works shown intermittently across sites in Clapham and Brixton, in partnership with This is Clapham and Art on the Underground. Over the course of a year, artworks will appear at various locations including neighbouring LGBTQ+ venue Two Brewers, the façade of Studio Voltaire, Brixton Underground station, and other temporary locations.

David McDiarmid (1952–1995) was an Australian artist, designer and activist, recognised for his prominent and sustained artistic engagement with issues relating to queer identity and history. Rainbow Aphorisms are a series of printed multiples, produced from 1993 until the artist’s death in 1995 of AIDS–related illnesses. McDiarmid produced these works in response to his own, and his community’s, experience of the AIDS crisis, and the multiple forms of devastations it manifests–from the political and emotional, to the intellectual and medical.

“I wanted to express myself and I wanted to respond to what was going on and I wanted to reach a gay male audience. I wanted to express very complex emotions and I didn’t know how to do it … I was in a bit of a dilemma. I thought, well, how can I get across these complex messages. I didn’t think it was simply a matter of saying gay is good.” – David McDiarmid, 1992.

In the Rainbow Aphorisms’ series, the artist was fascinated by the power of the aphorism to express a whole conceptual and cultural world. Bold san–serif texts are superimposed onto a ground of full spectrum rainbow colours–referencing Gilbert Baker’s rainbow flag (1978). “GIRLFRIEND, LIGHT AND SHADOWS”, “HONEY HAVE YOU GOT IT”, “I’M TOO SEXY FOR MY T–CELLS”–McDiarmid’s pithy textual observations are used to evoke the coded world of gay male subcultures in large western cities. Between the ferociously witty messages and the sugary bright colours, the works are encoded with a sensibility both camp and hip. Although the text is easy to read, the aphorisms are far from simple–some works ironically reference the virulence of tabloid responses to AIDS, while others offer poignant and melancholic observations of the devastating effects of the disease.

The Rainbow Aphorisms public programme uses the Rainbow Aphorisms to explore McDiarmid’s practice and questions of queer representation as well as contemporary understandings of AIDS–related illness. For the past year, this has been done through a series of talks, performances, film screenings, walking tours and workshops.

Highlights of the programme include: a talk by writer, curator and long-time friend of McDiarmid, Dr. Sally Gray, who discussed the importance and legacy of his practice and his contribution to the culture of AIDS/HIV internationally; RESPONSE, a performance by British artist David Hoyle, which explored the terrain of illness through healing, sound and ritual.

An exciting programme of walking tours has seen artists, writers, academics and activists reflect upon aspects of the work and their relationship to queer culture as well as the impact and legacy of the AIDS crisis. From Clapham to Brixton, the Rainbow Aphorisms walking tours have traversed South London, stopping at sites of interest and importance. Writers Paul Flynn and Huw Lemmey, academic Theo Gordon and Catwalk4Power and Rebel Dykes with Milo Bettochi have explored a diverse range of subjects–from pop music’s reaction to the AIDS crisis to the relationship between homosexuality and espionage and the invisibility of women in discourses surrounding HIV and AIDS.

This is the first solo institutional presentation of McDiarmid’s work in the UK, and the inaugural project in the Clapham Public Real Programme delivered by Studio Voltaire in partnership with This is Clapham. The project has been mounted with the support and involvement of the David McDiarmid Estate, Sydney.

The public programme was supported by Arts Council England.

Current sites:

Two Brewers
114 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UJ

Across the London Underground network and other temporary locations.

Previous Sites:

Brixton Underground Station
Brixton Rd, Brixton, London SW9 8HE

Studio Voltaire
1A Nelsons Row, Clapham, London SW4 7JR

About the artist:

David McDiarmid (born 1952 Hobart, Tasmania, died 1995 Sydney, Australia) was an artist, designer and political activist, recognised for his prominent and sustained artistic engagement in issues relating to gay male identity and HIV/AIDS.

In the mid–1970s he was known for the exquisite hand–painted textiles he produced for Flamingo Park, the fashion house run by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson but from 1975 much of his work, was about gay experience. Involved with the Sydney Gay Liberation movement since 1972, his first solo exhibition Secret Love, held at Sydney’s Hogarth Galleries in 1976, featured collages explicitly exploring gay male sexuality, anti–gay legislation and public and private sexual hypocrisies.

McDiarmid lived and worked in New York from 1979 to 1987. After returning to Australia at the end of 1987, he immersed himself in community art projects. McDiarmid is also known for his artistic direction of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, creating all the posters in 1986, 1988 and 1990.

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