McDiarmid worked in a wide array of media and styles in his artmaking. After 1975, all his work focussed on gay experience, and he is known for his huge wall hangings and other fabric works about HIV/AIDS in the mid 1980s. He used bold designs and colours and very kitsch, 'non-art' materials, such as hologram foil - his argument was: "Good taste can be a prison."
poster and installation artist, fabric designer, craftworker and gay activist, worked in a vast range of media and materials. In the mid-1970s he was known for the exquisite hand-painted textiles he produced for 'Flamingo Park’, the fashion house run by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson, but from 1975 all his work, regardless of medium, was about gay experience. Involved with the Sydney Gay Liberation movement since 1972, his first solo exhibition Secret Love , held at Sydney’s Hogarth Galleries in 1976, featured collages explicitly exploring gay male sexuality, anti-gay legislation and public and private sexual hypocrisies (Gott 6). He visited the USA in 1977 and fully participated in its wildest gay scenes.
Back at Sydney, McDiarmid’s first post-US exhibition was the Australian Dream Lounge , an installation at Hogarth Galleries in December 1977 (and possibly later at Lewers Bequest and Penrith Regional Art Gallery) which paid homage to Australiana and 1950s kitsch. The following year he showed Trade Enquiries at Hogarth, a series of large-scale collage works examining the effect on Australia of the 'Macho’ look and the new power of the 'pink’ dollar. Some of the collages were turned into a portfolio of 8 offset lithographs, published by Watters Gallery in May 1979 (shown in S.H. Ervin b/w exhibition, 1999, cat. 107).
McDiarmid lived almost continuously in the US from June 1979 to December 1987. In 1982 he wrote in an Artist’s Statement submitted to the Crafts Council of Australia with Men Quilt , his 1979 paean of praise to the multiple joys of gay sex (Gott 6):
I am interested in popular culture. My work is the intersection between folk art, women’s work (needlepoint, patchwork quilts) and contemporary materials. I use loud, cheap and vulgar plastics to make “pretty” pictures—pieces of wall decoration. Good taste can be a prison.
A favourite material from the early 1980s was hologram foil, used in Rapper, Dapper, Snapper , a monumental wall mosaic destroyed in 1982 by Pan Am en route from New York to Sydney for exhibition, and Body Language 1990 (hologram foil on board, NGV). Since his artworks produced no income, he continued to earn his living designing textiles for women’s clothes, moving in the early 1980s to more 'tribal’ designs. In about 1983-84 he began a series of enormous graffiti paintings on cloth, which in turn led to the production of Day-Glo and other vivid disco-wear. He made large fabric works on the subject of HIV/AIDS in the mid-1980s.
After returning to Australia at the end of 1987 McDiarmid immersed himself in community art projects. He did all the posters for Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from 1989 until his death (Mitchell Library [ML] POSTERS 463/1-7), and perhaps for the first in 1988 also, which has no signature (ML POSTERS 461/1-3). He was also the Artistic Director of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. Included in the Tin Sheds exhibition, “Dead Gay Artists”, 1-23 February 2002.