Donald Friend: A Charmed Life, a wide-ranging, evocative exhibition focusing on one of Australia’s most exotic and colourful artists, opens at the National Library of Australia on 9 November 2006.

Donald Friend (1915–1989) was a rare artist. He was a painter, draughtsman, printmaker, sculptor, illustrator, decorator and writer.

The exhibition, curated by Lou Klepac, art historian, publisher and friend of the artist, is a biographical survey of Friend from his earliest known work until the late 1980s when he became ill.

Containing 155 important works from private collections and national and state institutions, Donald Friend: A Charmed Life takes the viewer to Hill End, depicts Friend’s life as an official war artist, and traces his time overseas in London, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Bali and in his hometown Sydney.

A highlight of the exhibition is the inclusion of all 44 of Friend’s extraordinary diaries from the National Library’s collection. On display together for the first time, the diaries not only represent the personal vision of an important Australian artist, they also document Australian culture from the 1930s to the 1980s through his eyes. His writing is humorous, caustic and incisive.

“The exhibition has been timed to coincide with the National Library’s publication of the fourth and final volume of his diaries,” said Mr Klepac, who became acquainted with the diaries while researching a book on Friend’s lifelong friend Russell Drysdale.

Donald Friend presented his diaries to the National Library between 1983 and 1989. It was his wish that the diaries be published by the Library.

“The diaries are not only a written record of Friend’s life and opinions but also contain letters, semi-fictional episodes and recollections and they are enhanced by scores of drawings depicting his experiences and observations.

“As his paintings and drawings illustrate, Friend was an exceptional draughtsman. Some images are brightly coloured, depicting figures in environments of warmth and sunshine. There are also a number of self-portraits from youth to old age, which are reflections of a man exploring his character,” said Mr Klepac.

Born in Sydney in 1915, Donald Friend was fascinated by the arts from an early age. In 1932, he left his home in New South Wales and started the first of many wanderings that came to be a feature of his life. Roaming through North Queensland and settling for a time on Thursday Island, he responded to the slower pace and the sensuous qualities of the tropical north. For the rest of his life he settled in, and subsequently moved on from, a range of places—London, Nigeria, Italy, Hill End, Sri Lanka, Bali and finally, Sydney, where he died in August 1989. Ultimately, Friend’s nomadic lifestyle shaped his work and allowed him to indulge his delight in colour, beauty and the exotic.

Diaries of Donald Friend, Volume 4

Edited by Paul Hetherington
Donald Friend’s legendary years in Bali in the 1960s and 70s and his subsequent final decade in Australia are revealed in detail in this final volume of The Diaries of Donald Friend. Including over 60 drawings from the diaries, many of them in colour, this volume confirms Friend’s quicksilver creative brilliance and extraordinary insight.
Casebound with dust jacket, 240 x 160 mm
Australia RRP A$59.95 / Overseas RRP A$54.50
Available from the National Library Bookshop and from bookshops around Australia. To order: (1800 800 100

Exhibition details

Donald Friend: A Charmed Life
National Library of Australia
9 November – 4 February 2007
Exhibition Gallery, Free
Open daily 9am – 5pm. Free (Closed Christmas Day)

Major event

An Evening with Donald Friend

With Terence Clarke as Donald Friend, devised by Lou Klepac
This special event captures the essence of the man and the artist, and reveals incidents of Friend's exotic and colourful life.
Thursday 7 December, 6.30 pm
Theatre, Free
Bookings essential: (02) 6262 1271

Media contacts: Yvonne Kennedy 02 6262 1353; 0411 753 891;

Susan Grigson, Communications and Marketing Coordinator 02 6262 1571; 0410 627 684;