Dr. Sally Gray on David McDiarmid

Writer and curator, Dr Sally Gray discusses the work and legacy of Australian artist and activist David McDiarmid, including a screening of A Short History of Facial Hair.

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.

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

Dr Gray discussed the importance and legacy of this series of works, as well as the artist’s wider practice. 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 is also known for his artistic direction of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The talk also included a screening of A Short History of Facial Hair (Hermano Silva, 2011) – an illustrated essay that McDiarmid presented at the AIDS political forum HIV: Towards a Paradigm, in Melbourne in April 1993, in which he pulled together his personal fashion, grooming and adornment story, representing a 20–year period of his political and sexual history. Beautiful, hard-hitting and humorous, A Short History of Facial Hair is an interrogation of the artist’s appearance as it changes from hippie, to clone, to gay liberation activist, sexual revolutionary, hustler, dancefloor diva and, ultimately, to HIV positive queer subject – his self–styled ‘Toxic Queen’. McDiarmid traces how gay politics changed during what he described as ‘an extraordinary time of redefinition and deconstruction of our identities from camp to gay to queer’. The work explores links between art, identity, politics, dress and adornment.

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.

Credits

Hermano Silva, David McDiarmid: A Short History of Facial Hair, 2011. Courtesy of The Estate of David McDiarmid and Fashion Space Gallery, London Fashion of College.

Images courtesy of Sally Gray.

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