Thank you to the New Zealand Listener for its three-page feature about the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid on July 21, 2018. Republished online on August 17, 2018.
It is comforting, historian JC Beaglehole wrote in 1949, “that some of our artists who go away come back”. But MacDiarmid was not content; he missed the stimulus of Europe. “The expectation was that he would find a job,” says Cahill, “but he couldn’t settle. He was getting good reviews, but he was confused about where he wanted to be. The only way of living a life that was free and reasonably rewarding was to go back. If he had stayed, he never would have reached his potential as a painter.”
So, in 1950, MacDiarmid returned to Europe. Life in a squalid Paris apartment was hard, but the move, he said, was worthwhile. “Curiosity is unlimited here and sharpened by the necessity to live. Tension is at a higher pitch than in New Zealand, and the mass of artistic work so great that you can test and compare standards just walking down the streets.”
His paintings were winning accolades. A canvas by MacDiarmid, wrote a reviewer in France, is an “explosion, irresistible, buoyant, an ardent enjoyment of colour”.