Their friendship was largely based on correspondence. They widely discussed trends in literature and art, world affairs, travel destinations and the activities of friends, as well as sharing pieces of poetry. By the time Brasch returned permanently to New Zealand, Douglas was living abroad so they only saw one another when they happened to find themselves in the same country or New Zealand city. Apart from these letters, there are periodic mentions in their personal journals.
When Brasch founded ‘Landfall’ literary journal in 1947, MacDiarmid was one of the up-and-coming painters he sought to profile. He asked Douglas to write an account of his first commercial show at Helen Hitchings’ gallery in Wellington in 1949, but turned it down apologetically: “May I be blunt and say it is a bit too general and vague to be very helpful to the person who has not seen the gallery, and not critical enough, in the sense of not ‘placing’ it…”
Four of Douglas’s paintings appeared in the December 1956 issue of ‘Landfall’, after a lively exchange of letters to decide which pictures (in the pre-colour photography era) would be seen to best advantage as black and white images. Rather than being given a few guineas as a contributor’s fee in an era when it was complicated to transfer money between countries, he chose to receive copies of the journal, and later subscribed to it for years. Each new issue was eagerly anticipated for the wealth of reading and stimulus it provided – and the magazine was just the right size to stow in a coat pocket to read on a bus or train.
A few years later in 1962, one of those paintings ‘Haymaking 1955’ was selected by Brasch as the first illustration in ‘Landfall Country’, his ‘best of’ compilation of stories, poems, essays and paintings published between 1947 and 1961.
While touring Europe in 1957, Charles visited Douglas in Paris for the first time in years. Curiously, the occasion served to show that the easy cadence of their correspondence didn’t always translate to communicating face to face. Both men ruminated about it afterwards.
“A week is so little in a turbulent life, & one doesn’t seem able to speak by appointment,” Douglas wrote. “Among the French, things go faster, certainly – but one doesn’t look for your kind of poetry here, or get it. One learns about colour, texture & form – the soul lives somewhere else – or has different needs. However, that maybe, my particular blindness hampers me less while I read you – find any amount of profound beauty & accord.
“…I can’t express myself differently or find terms to say more what I mean. I wonder if the further one explores, the more clear, or blurred, the perception becomes – perhaps “specialised” might be the best qualification – this in connection with the feeling of reality in reading your poems as opposed to the unreality of your visit here. The heat seemed real, but neither of us. I am not one of those capable of living easily on two levels at once – everything outside the studio gets out of focus quickly. I think you may be in some way the same, none of which matters beside the work itself…”
By contrast, the Charles found Douglas “much more real” than his current paintings, which somehow lacked his characteristic vitality, and seemed to have lost their New Zealandness!. But he still bought a painting and was given another.
As well as being a talented poet and literary editor, Charles Brasch was well-known and admired as an art patron. He brought a number of Douglas’ paintings over the years, and was delighted when the painter made a little watercolour titled ‘Landfall’ as a gift from Paris.