Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1915 – Woollahra, New South Wales, Australia 1989
not titled [Self-portrait].
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, drawing in pen and black-purple ink and wash Support: paper
He looks at you out of the corner of his eyes, he smiles at you with his pursed lips, he stands there self-aware, wanting you to look at him, to like him, to admire him. He is the artist Donald Friend, and this is one of his many self-portraits, drawn during the Second World War, while he was a serving soldier. Here, Friend presents his assertive self in the foreground, with another, slightly menacing, darker figure, his alter-ego (or his lover) behind him, in the background.
The portrait is drawn with considerable freedom, with energy and assuredness, with a sense of knowing where to put the line. So, too, is his dramatic image of the Greek Club, Brisbane, drawn in the same year. It is one of a series of watercolour drawings Friend made while serving in Brisbane during the war. It is a bold composition, presenting three figures sprawled in front of Hellenic House with its arched veranda in the centre and part of the Greek Church on the right. It is an allegorical expression of the interminable waiting that was so much a part of every soldier’s wartime experience.
In the 1940s, Donald Friend was recognised as one of the promising young Sydney artists, mentioned in reviews alongside William Dobell and Russell Drysdale. He had considerable facility with pen and ink – as a draughtsman and as a writer. In 1943 the first volume of his war diaries, Gunner’s Diary, was published, followed by Painter’s Journal in 1946. He lived a colourful life, spending much of it in romantic places such as Malaytown, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Bali – as well as in the almost deserted gold-mining town, Hill End, in western New South Wales. He became known for his images of beautiful young men and for his audacious wit, but behind this more public face was a keen mind, an acute eye and a remarkable ability to draw.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002