The acclaimed Australian artist Charles Blackman, best known for his dreamlike Schoolgirl and Alice in Wonderland series amongst many artworks inspired by literature’s greats, has passed away aged 90.
The largely self-taught Blackman, who was appointed an Officer of the British Empire for his services to Australian art in 1977, is regarded as one of the most important figurative painters in Australian art history, and his practice spanned painting, drawing, sculpture and tapestry. In a statement announcing his passing, the artist’s family confirmed with deep sadness that Blackman passed away just one week after celebrating his 90th birthday following a long struggle with dementia. They also praised his multidisciplinary approach to exploring “the female psyche, poetry, music and aesthetic philosophies.”
Born on August 12, 1928 in Sydney, Charles Blackman left school at thirteen and became an illustrator at the Sydney Sun newspaper before moving to Melbourne in the mid-1940s, where he befriended the Heide collective of artists Joy Hester, John Perceval, and Laurence Hope. In 1959, Blackman collaborated with a number of his contemporaries, including John Brack, Arthur Boyd, and Robert Dickerson to create ‘The Antipodeans Group’, which railed against the dominance of American Abstract Expressionism and other non-figurative styles. In 1959, Blackman became a signatory to the Antipodean Manifesto, a statement protesting the dominance of abstract expressionism. In the 1960s he decamped to London for six years having won a travelling scholarship, where his work was exhibited widely in institutions such as the Whitechapel and Tate galleries, before returning to Australia. Blackman’s work is held in all major Australian public collections, as well as those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Tate in London.
Blackman had begun working with his family, including his two of his six children, Bertie and Christabel, who have been appointed co-managers of the Charles Blackman Foundation, on an extensive exhibition titled The Evening is the Morning. The exhibition will still go ahead as planned in tribute to his life and career and will open on Saturday 22 September, 2018, in collaboration with Harvey Galleries.
His daughter, the musician and artist Bertie Blackman, wrote in a statement that, “The most profound conversations I have ever had with my father have been without words. I sat next to him and listened to the scratches of his pen as he carefully pressed 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 did little else than draw. Ghostly static schoolgirl shapes… boats and cats and windows. He was like the Cheshire Cat. Grinning and enthralling you in one moment… and in the next… invisible but always there.
“ It has been a privilege and an honour to have the opportunity to 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.”
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of the Charles Blackman Foundation