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Donald Friend at Owl Creek
, 1983

by Lawrence Daws

ink and charcoal on paper (frame: 75.0 cm x 67.0 cm, sight: 50.0 cm x 44.0 cm)

Donald Friend (1915-1989), painter, writer and diarist, studied at the RAS and Dattilo-Rubbo’s school in Sydney before spending 1935 and 1936 at the Westminster School in London. Returning to Sydney via Nigeria, he became a member of the Merioola Group, an association of young creative types who were thrown together through communal life in an artists’ boarding house, ‘Merioola’ in Sydney between 1945 and 1950. Members of the group included Loudon Sainthill, Justin O’Brien, Jocelyn Rickards and Arthur Fleischmann; they exhibited at the Myer Gallery in Melbourne and the David Jones Gallery in Sydney in 1947. As various members left to travel and work overseas, the group disbanded. Robert Hughes characterised their work as the ‘Charm School’, a label which has adhered. Having served as an artillery gunner in Borneo and Moratai, Friend travelled further, residing in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the early 1960s and there making a series of sculptures. In 1968 he settled in a house he had built in Bali, whence he sent works for exhibition at the Macquarie Gallery and Australian Galleries. He returned to Australia in 1982; the year after he died, the Art Gallery of New South Wales held a major retrospective of his work. His books include Gunner’s Diary (1943), Painter’s Journal (1946), Hillendia (1956), Birds from the Magic Mountain (1977) and Bumbooziana (1978). Friend is represented in the National Gallery and all state galleries. Philip Bacon mounted a retrospective of Friend’s work in 1989, the year he died. Friend’s copious diaries were published by the National Library of Australia in four volumes, from 2001 to 2006. The last text includes details of the artist’s sexual relationships with young boys during his time in Bali in the 1960s and 1970s, revelations that have led to ongoing controversy concerning Friend’s artistic legacy.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Lawrence Daws 2012
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2012.224