On a newly dark Wednesday evening in Clapham a splash of vibrant colour was just what was needed. It was provided, in a number of ways, by the launch of Rainbow Aphorisms, a series of printed multiples by Australian artist, designer and activist, David McDiarmid (1952–1995). At The Two Brewers, an historic LGBT pub on Clapham High Street, the glitter balls reflected sprays of candy-coloured light across proceedings and Amy Lamé, London’s first ‘Night Czar‘ introduced the speeches. ( There was also an extremely tall man in a full Susie Wong diva outfit. )
This is the first of a series of intermittent showings of public works across sites in Clapham and nearby. Over the course of a year, artworks will appear at various temporary locations. It is Studio Voltaire‘s first ‘public realm’ project and it was sponsored, like the Clapham Book Fest by This is Clapham ( plus Art on the Underground and others ) as part of the Public Realm Strategy for Clapham. Several of the This is Clapham Board members were there on Wednesday.
Elements of this first series, Rainbow Aphorisms, will also be seen across the London Underground network in Zones 1 & 2. They are bright and eye-catching, the aphorisms sometimes amusing, sometimes challenging and sometimes sad, given the context of their creation.
Afterwards, at Studio Voltaire, a talk by Dr Sally Gray, Executor of the McDiarmid Estate, explored the work of David McDiarmid. Unfortunately this began much later than billed, (folk were having such a good time) so your blogger had to slope off for dinner (very bad form, drinking the wine but not staying for the talk). Born in Tasmania, McDiarmid lived and worked in New York from 1979 to 1987, at the same time as the subjects of Studio Voltaire’s previous exhibition, see Vittorio Scarpati & Cookie Mueller.
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 their posters in 1986, 1988 and 1990. The works in Rainbow Aphorisms were produced from 1993 until the artist’s death of AIDS–related illnesses, in response to his own, and his community’s, experience of the AIDS crisis, and the multiple forms of devastation it created – 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.
The artist acknowledged himself fascinated by the power of an aphorism to contain a whole conceptual and cultural world. Some works reference the virulent anti-gay responses of the tabloid newspapers to AIDS and are challenging or ironic statements, others are poignant and melancholic observations on the devastating effects of the disease. This is the first solo institutional presentation of McDiarmid’s work in the UK. The project has been mounted with the support and involvement of the David McDiarmid Estate, Sydney.