Among Charles Blackman's most popular subjects were his Girls and Flowers, originally inspired by his wife Barbara Blackman. These works followed his Alice in Wonderland series and were first exhibited in early 1958, blooming from a discrete series into a motif, forever finding their way back into Charles's consciousness. What was their power?
In this collection, Charles’s Girls and Flowers meet the practice of his eldest son, Auguste Blackman. Where Charles’s palette is moodier, Auguste embraces brightness – there are eruptions of red buds, faces haloed in gold and kaleidoscopic hair. Yet, like his father, a distant melancholy persists, a desire to connect, a gesture.
In Girls and Flowers, the Blackmans find both hope and longing. Charles’s works were inspired by Barbara’s blindness and their life near the flower farms of Mount Tamborine. As Barbara’s eyesight diminished, the farm’s flowers formed some of the last stimuli she could see, eventually evaporating into fragrance. Charles tried to capture her world.
Auguste too is inspired by Barbara, his mother. His images of girls are a reflection of being brought up by vibrant women, and of the diverse and vital roles they play worldwide. What is home without women? “It is her love in all things” muses Auguste, “the world will only succeed with women at the helm… against all odds she will prevail.” She is powerful, yet enigmatic.
Flowers carry universal meaning. They are proxies for care, love, sympathy. To be presented with a bouquet of flowers is to be undone by gesture. In the history of painting, they have been employed as an memento mori – reminders of mortality, for despite their youth and beauty, cut flowers are destined to wilt. Transience is intrinsic to the petal.
On Charles’s flowers, critic Gertrude Langer once wrote:
"Bathed in a light that has its source in the luminous colours, these inward gazing faces full of a gentle sadness, these flowers, which often seem like souls of flowers, have a stringent poetry that lingers in the mind."