Rainbow Aphorisms

OFFSITE: 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 in 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 –political, emotional, 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 contain a whole conceptual and cultural world. Bold san–serif texts are superimposed on 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. The works employ an encoded camp and hip sensibility to convey ferociously witty messages, foregrounded by sugary colours. Whilst some works reference the virulence of tabloid newspapers responses to AIDS and become ironic statements, others are poignant and melancholic observations of the devastating effects of the disease.

This is the first solo institutional presentation of McDiarmid’s work in the UK, and the inaugural art in the public realm project 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.

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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