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The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

Rainbow Aphorisms bring sunshine—and wisdom—to south London

David McDiarmid’s Rainbow Aphorisms (1993-95). A Studio Voltaire Project, Brixton tube station, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and the Estate of David McDiarmid, Sydney. Photo: Benedict Johnson

As the clocks go back to winter time and afternoon darkness descends, there’s a welcome blaze of colour making its presence felt across south London. As of this week, travellers descending into Brixton underground station are greeted by a trio of giant rainbow signs declaring, “The family tree stops here darling”; “Don't forget to remember”; and “Girlfriend, our life is one of lights and shadows”. Meanwhile, amongst the advertising on the platforms of Southwark station, a row of similarly multicoloured posters states, “I want a future that lives up to my past”.

These, and more pithy observations emblazoned across a number of other locations—including the facades of Clapham art space Studio Voltaire and the LGBTQ+ Two Brewers pub on Clapham High Street—are London’s introduction to David McDiarmid’s Rainbow Aphorisms. The series of printed multiples were produced by the Australian artist, designer and activist from 1993 until his death in 1995 from Aids-related illnesses. Not only is this the first major showing of McDiarmid’s work in the UK but it also the first time that the not-for-profit Studio Voltaire has mounted a project in the public realm, which has been produced in association with Art on the Underground and This is Clapham.

Studio Voltaire's Joe Scotland; Sum Ting Wong; and This is Clapham’s Jeremy Keates Photo: Benedict Johnson

Appropriately for a project that combines high-octane flamboyance with deadly seriousness, the Rainbow Aphorisms were launched in grand style on Wednesday (1 November) night. Presiding over the revelers in the Two Brewers cabaret bar was the inimitable drag artiste Sum Ting Wong with the capital’s Night Czar Amy Lamé also in attendance. Lamé gave a stirring speech in support of the project and underlining the importance of the capital’s LGBT venues, and Voltaire’s participation programme manager Laura Harford also reminded us how the aphorisms remain utterly appropriate—and indeed necessary—in our current climate.

Afterwards the party processed over the road to Voltaire to hear more about the late artist’s work from the McDiarmid estate executor Sally Grey, who had flown in from Sydney. The evening was rounded off with a screening of McDiarmid’s Short History of Facial Hair (1993); a funny, hard hitting and poignant film charting a 20-year period of his sexual history and fashion choices or—in the inimitable words of the man himself—“my life as a Sick Queen, with or without facial hair”. What a great voice to have ringing across our capital, making us both smile and think.