The Donald Friend Diaries - Art Collector

26 October 2010 | “At the Contemporary Art Society’s opening all the usual people were there,” writes Donald Friend in 1945. “Crowds and crowds of men and women costumed as intellectuals, and in addition an ever greater number than usual of willowy attitudinising youths gushing and gesturing.”

It’s the sort of acerbic remark that Friend is known for – and there is certainly no shortage of them in
The Donald Friend Diaries, the first single volume edition of the artist’s diaries.

Friend, who passed away in 1989 at 74 years of age, kept a diary for most of his life. Part chronicle, part confessional, it contains his thoughts on friends and love affairs, as well as many of the notable characters and events of the 20th century. In all, he accumulated some two million words.

In this thankfully abridged edition the threads have been reorganised into a chronological narrative, beginning in 1929 when the artist was just a teenager. Alongside the sort of acerbic remarks the artist is known for – Friend himself once commented that his diary would be fatal reading to anyone who wished to respect his character – he also writes with great intimacy about his career as an artist and his quest to master his art.

“Neither love, food, writing, money or music, nor flattery nor sincere admiration nor the company of friends (all the things I am most partial to),” he wrote, “could seduce me from my painting.”

This edition of Friend’s diaries also makes a significant contribution to the body of public knowledge about the artist’s life and work. Editor Ian Britain has succeeded in recovering two “lost” volumes of Friend’s wartime diaries, which had been held by a private collector in America. “They were the missing parts of a cultural treasure, however flawed the maker,” Britain notes in his introduction.

Supplementing the diaries, Britain has also included material from correspondence and interviews, a chronology of the artist’s life and a handful of black and white illustrations taken from Friend’s diary pages, many showing sketches and drawings breaking up the flow of words.

Jane O'Sullivan

The Donald Friend Diaries: Chronicles & confessions of an Australian artist (paperback, 512 pages) is published by Text Publishing.

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