The ‘From London With Love’ collection derives from Charles Blackman’s 1965 Rowney sketchbook. From his time in London, it exemplifies Charles’s ‘Golden Era’ of drawing, where life was navigated pen-nib first. Caught between England and Australia, fatherhood and fame, this collection is not only artistically fascinating, it sheds light on the man who made it.
Having won the Helena Rubinstein Travelling Scholarship, Charles and his family arrived in London in 1960. The year before, he had made history alongside a group of artists called the Antipodeans. Their staunch dismissal of abstractionism in favour of figurativism, would come to define Australian modernism. Here, however he was freed from notoriety - able to anonymously absorb the city.
When recalling this time, Charles’s then wife Barbara Blackman muses “we made ourselves English lives to go with this English house, like actors learning new lines, fitting new costumes for the new play”. Settled in a five-story house in Highgate with their young family, the Blackmans became the exotic antipodeans. Happily, friends from Down Under were never far with the Arthur Boyds and Percevals just up the road.
Charles with Barbara Blackman and Arthur Boyd at The Whitechapel Gallery in London, 1961.
Surrounded by children, friends and family, Charles snapped scenes from his everyday - babies sitting, crawling and standing unsteadily, sewing kits and still lifes. There are also studies for significant paintings including ‘The Flower Barrow’, as well as flashes of some of his most iconic motifs including Alice, schoolgirls and interiors.
Like all Blackman works however, there is more than meets the eye. In sketches like ‘Interior’ and ‘The Window’, a sense of dread lingers. Barbara, the leading lady of Charles’s world, was going blind. This, combined with the unease of being an expat and the stresses of fatherhood, explains a fraught complexity beneath the page.
Charles’s talent lies in his pitch-perfect emotionality. With twinges of sadness, joy and utter imagination, his scenes of London are as expansive as any life. Intuitive and distinctively Blackman, this collection holds a plenty of depth and delight.
To view the full 'From London, With Love Collection' click here.