'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

02 February 2011

Donald Friend

Young and Old
Click all to enlarge
Donald Friend was born in Sydney on 6 February 1915. He lived and worked in many different parts of the world during his career. He studied with at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales in 1934 and at the Westminster School of Art, London. From the time that he left school in 1931, jumping ‘rattler trains’ to Queensland where he lived with the islanders of Torres Strait.
 Sailors and river in Brisbane where I live
 Donald Friend sought an exotic life style outside his Australian background. After studying in London he went to Nigeria in 1938. When the WWII was declared he returned to Australia and joined the AIF, as an artillery gunner 1942-5 and as an official war artist in 1945. He served in Labuan, Borneo and Morotai and wrote and illustrated two books based on his wartime experiences, Gunner’s Diary (1943) and Painter’s Journal (1946),  

WWII drawings and paintings
He lived in Italy, Sri Lanka 1957-61 and Bali between 1966 and 1980, where his fame as an expatriate was at its height. While capturing the beauty of his private Bali he lived an increasingly eccentric gay life and alienated several friends. 
Continuing difficulties with visa extensions, and ailing health which necessitated more frequent medical treatment, brought about his permanent return to Australia in 1980. His final period was a testament to the artist’s great tenacity. Not even a series of strokes which debilitated his drawing and writing hand - his left hand - seemed to impede his creative drive.
When Donald Friend died in a squalid apartment in Bondai Junction in Sydneyon 16 August 1989, aged 74, he left behind over 40 volumes of his diary. The National Library has embarked on a major project to edit and publish the diaries. It reveals one of Australia’s most interesting artistic friendships between Friend and fellow artist Russell Drysdale.
Donald Friend established a firm place in Australian art, particularly through his work during the Second World War, his association with the Merioola group in Sydney, his attachment to Hill End in Western New South Wales where he lived and painted for extended periods, and his long and close friendship with Russell Drysdale. Openly homosexual he, Justin O’Brien and others were called the “Charm School”.
A controversial, passionate man, Friend created a universe within a universe in Bali. He amassed prodigious amounts of art, and almost single-handedly, he created and supported a village of antique dealers who began manufacturing for him and his circle. Numerous young creative Australians owe a great debt to Friend whose antics and style liberated them from the constraints of Australia during that time. His house was a hive of activity and the place to be. His 'court' can be considered the last held in the grand tradition.
I have several books of his works and attending a retrospective of his works, in Melbourne a few years ago, was an extraordinary experience. Such a diverse collection from various periods in his life from early Australian works, to his life as a war artist and his later years in Asia.
 The above are some relatively unknown drawings from one of his illustrated manuscripts 'The Farce of Sodom'. I own a signed copy but without colour plate inserts. A sketch of himself is on the left. Friends who had travelled to Bali mentioned that he is still remembered and admired by many locals. He does seem to have been very lax guarding his work. I have come across a few people over the years who seem to be in possession of discarded treasures left abandoned in a variety of places.
"You see, in a sense, my whole life is Colin. Not particularly Colin himself, but my love and appreciation and desire for the Colins of this world and my life."  D. Friend
A lasting regret I have is that I was once offered, by an acquaintance, a Donald Friend sketch similar to the above nude of Colin, but I was too poor to buy it, even at the relatively inexpensive price offered to me.

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