Rainbow Aphorisms

David McDiarmid

Oct 2017 - Sept 2018

Art on the Underground have worked with Studio Voltaire and the Estate of David McDiarmid to present a selection of the artist’s Rainbow Aphorisms series at Brixton Underground station.

David McDiarmid (1952–1995) was an Australian artist, designer and activist, recognised for his prominent and sustained artistic engagement in issues relating to queer identity and history. Rainbow Aphorisms are a series of printed multiples, produced from 1993 until the artist’s death in 1995 of AIDS–related  illnesses. McDiarmid produced these works in response to his own, and his community’s, experience of the AIDS crisis, and the multiple forms of devastations it manifests –political, emotional, intellectual and medical.

“I wanted to express myself and I wanted to respond to what was going on and I wanted to reach a gay male audience. I wanted to express very complex emotions and I didn’t know how to do it … I was in a bit of a dilemma. I thought, well, how can I get across these complex messages. I didn’t think it was simply a matter of saying gay is good.” – David McDiarmid, 1992.

In the Rainbow Aphorisms’ series, the artist was fascinated by the power of the aphorism to contain a whole conceptual and cultural world. Bold san–serif texts are superimposed on a ground of full spectrum rainbow colours – referencing Gilbert Baker’s rainbow flag (1978) – “GIRLFRIEND, OUR LIFE IS ONE OF LIGHTS AND SHADOWS”, “HONEY HAVE YOU GOT IT”, “I’M TOO SEXY FOR MY T–CELLS” – McDiarmid’s pithy textual observations are used to evoke the coded world of gay male subcultures in large western cities. The works employ an encoded camp and hip sensibility to convey ferociously witty messages, foregrounded by sugary colours. Whilst some works reference the virulence of tabloid newspapers responses to AIDS and become ironic statements, others are poignant and melancholic observations of the devastating effects of the disease.

Over the course of a year, artworks from the Rainbow Aphorism series will appear intermittently at various locations across Brixton and Clapham. This project forms part of a yearlong public arts programme delivered by Studio Voltaire in partnership with This is Clapham BID.

The project has been mounted with the support and involvement of the David McDiarmid Estate, Sydney.

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