Artist's Biography

A gifted draughtsmen with a brilliant flair for decoration and illustration, Donald Friend was one of Australian art’s most controversial characters.

Born in Sydney in 1915, Friend’s painting style is figurative and narrative with many works instilled with his satirical humour and sharp observation.

After completing school, Donald lived with the Torres Strait islanders.  From 1933 to 1935 he studied art at Sydney’s Royal Art Society, and the Datillo Rubbo School.  He also studied with the Westminster School of Art in London from 1935 to 1936.

From 1938 to 1940, Friend worked in Nigeria as an advisor to a local monarch, Igogo of Ikerre. He returned to Sydney in 1940 where his art earned him a leading place amongst the new generation of Sydney painters.

Donald served as an official war artist in 1945, working in Labuan, Borneo and Morotai. He wrote & illustrated two books while serving as an artillery gunner in Borneo & Morotai.

His personal diaries, of which there are 35, were written all his life. They reveal his perceptiveness & love of entertainment.

In 1947, Donald and his great friend Russell Drysdale visited the old mining towns of Sofala and Hill End in rural New South Wales, where they painted many views of the old streets. Friend bought an old cottage at Hill End where he lived and painted with Drysdale and other visiting artists, including Margaret Olley, David Strachan, Jeffrey Smart, Fred Jessup and Justin O’Brien. This group  became known as the Hill End artists.

From 1957 to 1962, Friend lived in Sri Lanka. He then travelled to Italy and Greece. From 1966 to 1980 Donald lived in Bali ajd enjoyed a period of great fame, sending regular exhibitions back to Australia. In 1980, facing visa difficulties and ailing health, he returned to Australia.

Donald Friend was awarded many art prizes, including the Flotta Lauro prize, the Blake prize; the Banbury prize and the University Medal for Services to Art from the University of Sydney.

A series of strokes in 1987 saw him loose the use of his left hand, his writing hand but he learnt to paint and write again using his right hand.

In April 1989 a mini-retrospective of his work was presented in Brisbane.

Donald Friend died in Sydney in August 1989, and in February 1990 a major retrospective of his work was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Friend’s work is represented at the National Gallery of Victoria, State galleries, regional galleries & many private & corporate collections.