About Douglas MacDiarmid
Acclaimed expatriate painter Douglas MacDiarmid holds a unique place in New Zealand’s creative core. Regarded as the one who got away, Douglas is a significant missing link in post-war New Zealand art culture. By choosing to pursue a global career rather than make a domestic living, he has largely flown under the radar until recently.
Born in Taihape in 1922, he boarded at Huntley Preparatory School, Marton, and Timaru Boys’ High School. He graduated from Canterbury College, Christchurch with a Bachelor of Arts in English, literature and music after World War II.
Based in Paris since 1952, Douglas has found his own way and outlived his contemporaries. MacDiarmid is a gifted, charmingly charismatic, highly articulate, erudite and witty individual. With his prodigiously versatile painting style in portraits, figures, landscapes, urbanscapes, representational and abstract art, he has had wide success earning a living from his art in a very competitive market.
Now 96, he continues to represent New Zealand on the world art scene. He has returned regularly over the decades and featured in many exhibitions in his homeland.
Douglas describes himself as an expressionist painter – one who expresses the visual rhythm of things. He has worked in oils, watercolour, acrylic on various surfaces, and experimented with new textures and sculptural mediums. All of his work is imbued with his deep interest in the classical world, music, mythology, literature, and the origins of civilisation and language.
This multi-faceted man has led an extraordinary life. He is an important artist with a wide view of art, history and life that spans almost a century. His diverse body of work is strongly influenced by his extensive travels, observations, writings, friendships and exchanges over the past nine decades.
In the 1940s, he was the young darling of the avant-garde The Group in Christchurch, encouraged by Evelyn Page, Leo Bensemann and Rita Angus.
In the 1960s, he gave lectures on contemporary painting around New Zealand and was the first New Zealand painter to exhibit at New Zealand House in London.
In 1990, he was declared a New Zealand ‘living cultural treasure’ during an official sesquicentennial exhibition of his work in Wellington, and his portrait painted for the National Portrait Gallery. The artist’s 80th birthday in 2002 coincided with the publication of an illustrated art book titled MacDiarmid by French art historian Dr Nelly Finet, published in both English and French.
In 2006, a 52-minute documentary film about Douglas MacDiarmid’s art and life views premiered at the annual Australia New Zealand Film Festival at St Tropez, France. Called A Stranger Everywhere, the documentary was supported by an art exhibition of the same name.
In 2011, he invited fellow expatriate New Zealand sculptor Marion Fountain to join him in mounting an exhibition at the New Zealand embassy in Paris to raise funds for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.
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 book is available here. Its launch 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. Listen to what Douglas had to say about writing his biography.