In Douglas MacDiarmid‘s, early years, before the influx of mass tourism and package tours, he travelled footloose and free to see the treasures of the ancient world and spectacular landscapes unsullied by crowds. The world was generally a safer, more hospitable place. There is a long history of terrorism in Europe, dating back over centuries. But its impact was very much on his mind in the early 2000s, punctuated whenever he visited a major gallery or stood in airport queues waiting to be processed through heightened security checks. In November 2003 almost 50 people died in bombings in Istanbul; four months later in Spain, 192 were killed in the Madrid train bombings; in July 2005, the London bombings took another 56 lives. MacDiarmid has watched the menace of terrorism and the wrath of blind faith with mounting despair; aware that “human history stupidly repeats itself”. To his mind, religion and human exchange are the only true religion. France and much of the world as we know it remains on high alert.
This striking painting is a classical vision with a ‘modern’ twist, making a protest statement about the volatile state of the world. Douglas’ work often contains an underlying message or social commentary. In this case he has offset his fascination for archaeological sites, and the exquisite durability they represent in a throw-away society, with his passion for travel and wrapped it up in a declaration of the heightened dangers of visiting any iconic historical monument that attracts a crowd. If you look closely at the bottom of the painting, a man hides in the shadow of the tree, watching and waiting the chance to unleash his zealous intent.
Originally painted in 2004, and reworked in 2005, the painting was exhibited ‘Chez lui’ late that year in one of Douglas’ popular home studio exhibitions. It has been shown most recently at Auckland in the brief exhibition supporting the launch of Douglas’ biography Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid written by his niece Anna Cahill, at the James Wallace Arts Trust’s The Pah Homestead in July 2018.
Buy your copy of Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill (2018) here or purchase it in person from all good bookstores across New Zealand.