David McDiarmid (Biographical details)

David McDiarmid (painter/draughtsman; Australian; Male; 1952 - 1995)

Also known as

McDiarmid, David


Text from Stephen Coppel, 'Out of Australia: Prints and Drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas', with a contribution by Wally Caruana on Aboriginal prints, BMP, 2011.
Born in Hobart, Tasmania, McDiarmid was a leading gay activist artist who made his reputation in Sydney as a polemicist of the HIV/AIDS issue in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the early 1970s he was involved in the field of design and fashion - an interest he shared with the artist Peter Tully (1947-1992), his partner from 1973 to 1975, with whom he remained a lifelong friend and collaborator. Both worked for Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee at the Flamingo Park fashion house in Sydney during this period. Issues of gay sexuality and anti-gay legislation (where open homosexuality still could be prosecuted in Sydney until 1984) were addressed in his exhibition 'Secret Love' at the Hogarth Galleries, Sydney in 1976. In the following year, after a visit to San Francisco's gay scene, McDiarmid had a joint show with Tully at the Hogarth Galleries where the kitsch Australian interior was sent up with camp flamboyance. The emerging Gay and Lesbian Liberation movement in Sydney was signalled by a watershed group exhibition at Watters Gallery in July 1978 for which McDiarmid designed the poster. In November 1978 he held a joint exhibition with Tully at Hogarth Galleries where McDiarmid showed his Trade Enquiries collages, several of which were produced as off-set lithographs for wider circulation in the following year.
In 1979 McDiarmid left Australia for America where he remained for the next eight years. After the attention he had received in Sydney the experience of living as an unknown arrival in New York was often difficult. He survived by handpainting fabrics for Linda Jackson in Sydney and from occasional commissions for the New York fashion industry. He became a habitué of Paradise Garage, the lively black and Hispanic gay dance club and the original venue of House music, where he met the graffiti street artist Keith Haring. Inspired by the pulsating disco vibes of Paradise Garage, McDiarmid's New York work was shown in Sydney at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in 1984, the only exhibition he had during his years in America. His large paintings on cloth, animated with sub-culture street slogans and hot colours, expressed the throbbing rhythms of music, drugs and sex. In 1987 he was diagnosed HIV positive and decided to return to Australia.
Back in Sydney McDiarmid confronted widespread attitudes of ignorance or denial about the AIDS epidemic which was commonly viewed as an American disease. He devoted himself to producing AIDS-activist art which raised awareness of the epidemic and empowered those who were HIV-infected. In 1988-89 he was artistic director of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In 1991 he showed his 'Kiss of Light' collage-paintings and gouaches at Syme Dodson Gallery, Sydney which frankly addressed gay sexuality in the age of AIDS. His work became widely known when several of these images were adopted by the AIDS Council of New South Wales in its safe-sex poster campaigns from 1992. The AIDS-related death of Tully in 1992 spurred McDiarmid in his remaining years to produce the 'Toxic Queen' series and a set of colour laser prints titled 'Rainbow Aphorism' (2006,0330.4 and 2006,0330.1) in 1994. He died in Sydney from AIDS-related complications in May 1995.
His prints and posters are held by the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Ted Gott, 'Agony Down Under: Australian Artists Addressing AIDS' in Ted Gott (ed.), 'Don't Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of Aids', exh.cat., Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1994, pp.1-33, 158-59; Ted Gott, 'David McDiarmid', obituary in 'Art and Australia', vol.33 no.2 (Summer 1995), pp.246-7; Ted Gott, 'Don't Forget to Remember: The Art of David McDiarmid', 'Art Monthly Australia', no.152 (August 2002), pp.33-5