Douglas MacDiarmid turns 96


November is major birthday month in the rue Cavallotti household, with Douglas MacDiarmid delighted to turn 96 on the 14th of the month, and his partner Patrick celebrating his 87th milestone a fortnight later on the 29th.

Ninety-six is indeed a time of quiet reflection on a life well led, but what a week of well-wishings it was, with Douglas overwhelmed and elated by the warmth of messages from far and wide. Among the birthday mail this year was a lovely letter of compliments and congratulations from the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage:

…”As one of our most accomplished and acclaimed expatriate painters, you have long flown New Zealand’s creative flag around the globe….

…”Few artists can boast close to eight decades of productivity in their chosen art form, it is an achievement to be proud of and I greatly admire your passion and commitment to art, life and colour. I am very pleased that your niece Anna Cahill has worked with you to record your journey in Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid and that many are able to appreciate your works held in private and public collections all around the world.”

Such blessings and thoughts were “a true boost to my spirits”, even though it frustrates him that he no longer has the vitality to reply to each and every message. Please visit this page again soon for a video of Douglas on his birthday, 14 November 2018. Follow our Facebook page and we’ll let you know once it’s available.

We salute Douglas for the colour, depth and expanded horizons he has brought to our lives; and the exceptional Patrick, his devoted partner of 50 years, for making it possible for him to dedicate his life to painting.

To celebrate the passage of decades, please enjoy this selection of photographs from Douglas MacDiarmid’s personal photo albums, starting with an endearing shot of a proud little boy with his first fish.

Douglas MacDiarmid proudly holding his first catch. Taken late-1920s.
Douglas MacDiarmid as a child proudly holding his first catch. Taken late-1920s.

School years were not always Douglas’ most memorable moments. He had a great thirst for learning, but his maths books were more often filled with verse and drawings than calculations.

Douglas MacDiarmid at Timaru Boys High School (taken late-1930s). Boring or not, there was no escaping homework at boarding school.
Douglas MacDiarmid at Timaru Boys High School (taken late-1930s). Boring or not, there was no escaping homework at boarding school.

Sometimes it takes a surprise gift – a book on Buddhism – from a friend like Jean Maclaughlan to make sense of a crazy world in the throes of war.

Youthful exuberance…Jean and Douglas dancing on a picnic, Canterbury 1940. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Youthful exuberance…Jean and Douglas dancing on a picnic, Canterbury 1940

After the second world war, Douglas was off to devour the world, with every corner of every day in Europe was a new adventure.

Douglas rugged up for winter. He walked all over Paris in his early days in France. This photo dates back to 1947-1948. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Douglas rugged up for winter. He walked all over Paris in his early days in France. This photo dates back to 1947-1948.

Weekends are for friends and frolicking. Even a painter as focussed as Douglas has to let off steam, making an art form of fun in his spare time.

Douglas MacDiarmid demonstrating his athleticism at a country house in Chalautre. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Douglas MacDiarmid demonstrating his athleticism at a country house in Chalautre.

An instant connection in passing on the street has become a lasting union. Douglas and Patrick have overcome considerable odds to be accepted as a couple, growing closer year by year.

Douglas MacDiarmid's life partner Patrick, Geneva 1976. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Patrick in Geneva, 1976

Insatiable curiosity and a love of language and the sources of early civilisation have taken Douglas all over the world to extend his knowledge and inspire creativity. He has revisited many favourite places with new eyes in the company of Patrick.

Douglas and Patrick revelling in the ancient ruins of Ephesus, Turkey, June 1985. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Douglas and Patrick revelling in the ancient ruins of Ephesus, Turkey, June 1985

Douglas has always worked out. Keeping fit in both mind and body is perhaps the key to his longevity…

Cutting a fine figure at the age of 70 on his rowing machine, the ‘new toy’ Douglas MacDiarmid adopted in 1992. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Cutting a fine figure at the age of 70 on his rowing machine, the ‘new toy’ Douglas MacDiarmid adopted in 1992.

How many artists are at the height of their creative powers through their eighties and beyond? Douglas continued to paint prodigiously and exhibit regularly until the end of 2014.

Douglas MacDiarmid documenting his work for a new show in Paris in 2013. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Douglas MacDiarmid documenting his work for a new show in Paris in 2013.

After he retired from painting at the age of 92, Douglas MacDiarmid meticulously recounted his life with his biographer Anna Cahill. Colours of a Life was published in July 2018, with Douglas delighted to receive his ‘divine brick’ and hold his life in his hands at the age of 95.

Douglas MacDiarmid proudly holding his life in his hands at the age of 95. His only complaint is the weight of the book making it impossible to read in bed. Taken October 2018.
Douglas MacDiarmid proudly holding his life in his hands at the age of 95. His only complaint is the weight of the book making it impossible to read in bed. Taken October 2018.

Buy your copy of Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill (2018) from us, or from all good bookstores and galleries across New Zealand. Published by Mary Egan Publishing (2018).

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