Australian figurative painter Charles Blackman OBE (1928-2018) passed away this morning, just one week after his 90th birthday celebrations.
Best known for his Schoolgirl and Alice in Wonderland series, Blackman’s artistic practice spanned painting, drawing, sculpture and tapestry, using his multidisciplinary approach to explore the female psyche, poetry, music and aesthetic philosophies.
Blackman’s works are held in all major public collections in Australia and internationally including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Tate Gallery in London. He made significant contributions to Australian art including his 1959 collaboration with a number of figurative artists – John Brack, Arthur Boyd and Robert Dickerson – to create The Antipodeans group, which railed against Australian artists adopting American Abstract Expressionism and other non-figurative styles. His efforts were recognised and he went on to receive the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977 and became the recipient of many prizes and distinctions including a major touring retrospective in 1993.
Blackman’s legacy lives on in the work of others, whether it be Jon Molvig’s portrait titled Charles Blackman, which won the Archibald Prize in 1966 to the Blackman Hotel in St Kilda Road, Melbourne that features 670 fine prints by the late artist, or his literary parentage of novels such as Ursual Dubosarsky’s novel, The Golden Day which was directly inspired by Blackman’s 1954 painting Floating Schoolgirl.
Blackman had been working with his family on an extensive celebratory exhibition titled ‘The Evening is the Morning’, that will now be a tribute to his life and career, opening as planned on Saturday 22 September, 2-5pm at Harvey Galleries in northern Sydney. His bronze maquettes and illustrations from Mark Twain’s A Cat’s Tale will be on display, reflective of his continual adoration for the feline form seen throughout his oeuvre – from schoolgirls and angels to Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Edgar Allan Poe.
In a touching statement, Blackman’s daughter Bertie Blackman has said;
‘The most profound conversations I have ever had with my father have been without words. I sit next to him and listen to the scratches of his pen as he carefully presses an imprint of his secret language. The line. The line that draws him. The line that can never hide. It is an extraordinary thing to watch and be a part of… like the ink is the thread that holds us together in that moment. In his fading light he does little else than draw. Ghostly static schoolgirl shapes..boats and cats and windows. He is like the Cheshire Cat. Grinning and enthralling you in one moment… and in the next.. invisible but always there.
It is a privilege and an honour to have the opportunity wander through the windows and chasms of such an intricate and incredibly deep feeling mind. I walk with him and hold his hand as he wanders… and we hope that you too will come with us… upside down and downside up!… down the rabbit hole.’ – Bertie Blackman (2018)