Douglas MacDiarmid

Douglas MacDiarmid

NEW ZEALAND (1922 - 2020) FRANCE

After a long and extraordinary life, we sadly share the news that Douglas MacDiarmid passed away in Paris overnight (Wednesday 26 August 2020) at the age of 97. Douglas is survived by his beloved partner Patrick (89), and three generations of wider MacDiarmid family in New Zealand, Australia and beyond.

Douglas MacDiarmid was born in Taihape on the 14th November 1922. He was educated at the Canterbury University in Christchurch where he was immersed in the New Zealand art movements of the time. MacDiarmid fondly recalled his time spent in Christchurch and stated, ‘back in the 1940’s in Christchurch, how passionate we were as raw university students at the mercy of a whole gamut of immature impulsions’. During this period MacDiarmid was associated with the avant-garde Christchurch ‘Group’. His tuition by Evelyn Page and his great admiration for Matisse greatly informed his sense of colour.

MacDiarmid served in both the Army and later the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the Second World War. After the end of the war MacDiarmid moved to Paris. He made the move to France in order to pursue his career as an artist and in his own words, ‘to devour the rest of the world’. During this period the French School was internationally pre-eminent with the Art Informel movement. The movement abandoned geometric abstraction in favour of a more intuitive form of expression, similar to action painting.

Refusing to be swept up by any particular movements, MacDiarmid’s work of the 1950s and 1960s has been described by his biographer, French art historian, Nelly Finet as ‘nourished by a certain expressionism which his classical formation kept within reasonable limits’. MacDiarmid’s painterly awareness was inspired by events as various as viewing the work of El Greco in Spain and in Italy, the paintings of Giotto and reading the following line from a book by Bertrand Russell; ‘The world is composed, not of objects, but events.’

Describing his own artistic practice MacDiarmid stated, ‘I neither live nor work to formula, responding mostly to stimuli inner or outer which have the effect of command. Mood evolves as the painting proceeds & decides the degree of abstraction or figuration, in general a blend of both, given the liberty & elusiveness of vision’.

He has exhibited in New Zealand since his 1950 show at the Helen Hitchings Gallery in Wellington and in 1968, the QEII Arts Council held a Retrospective Show of his work. MacDiarmid has also exhibited in Paris, Athens, Casablanca and London to great acclaim. A film, A Stranger Everywhere by Eric Grinda, chronicling the artist’s life and career was screened at the Fesivaldes des antipodes in 2006.

In 2012, a collection of 130 of his artworks was acquired by Otago University’s Hocken Library. In 2014-15, his work was featured in Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand’s Ngā Toi exhibition. In 2017, the University of Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery exhibited work covering a period of six decades, gifted to their permanent collection by the artist in 2015.

In July 2018, his biography Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid was published. Written by his niece Anna Cahill. The launch of the book was accompanied by an exhibition of portraiture at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and a one night exhibition of private works at the Pah Homestead in Auckland.

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