Vale, Charles Blackman

A public memorial celebrating the life and art of Charles Blackman will be held at The Art Gallery of New South Wales on Saturday September 8 at 9.00 am.

On August 20th, hero of Australian art Charles Blackman passed away at age ninety. At the frontier of Australian modernism, his legacy is both singular and enduring. Collected by all major national institutions, as well as the Tate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Blackman bewitched audiences with his wonder and wit. His passing, while deeply saddening, offers an opportunity to celebrate this artist, who like few others articulated the human condition. 


Charles Blackman, 1928 - 2018 with David Sears and Gill del Mace. 

Born in 1928, Charles Blackman relocated to Melbourne in the early fifties. A largely self-taught artist who left school at thirteen, Blackman had previously illustrated for newspapers in Sydney. It was in Melbourne however, his fine art career took flight. After befriending preeminent patrons John and Sunday Reed, Blackman joined what would become the Antipodean movement. Here, he produced his first major series - ‘Schoolgirls’.

Charles Blackman with John Reed and Georges Mora, Christmas in Aspendale 1959. 


In 1951, Charles Blackman married Barbara Blackman (née Patterson). A poet herself, Charles cast Barbara as the protagonist of his hugely popular ‘Alice in Wonderland’ works. His inspiration was sparked when Charles listened with Barbara to childhood classic aloud. Oblivious to its accompanying illustrations, Blackman starting dreaming up his own pictorial Wonderland.

In his imaginings, Blackman recognised a parallel between his wife and Alice. As the latter waded into a world of ballooning flowers and shrinking mice, Barbara was also growing estranged from her surroundings - her eyesight was failing. In a story remembered for its murderous playing cards and grinning cat, Blackman uncovered his own life.


Always the life of the party - Charles Blackman with friends. 


In 1959, Charles Blackman signed the Antipodean Manifesto - an endorsement of figurative art in the face of rising abstractionism. The next year, on the wind of winning the Helena Rubinstein Scholarship, he moved to London with his family. Here, in midst of one of the world’s busiest metropolises, he cemented the case for figurative art. While London represented a period of creative growth, it also took a toll on Blackman’s family. In the mid-60s, they returned to Sydney - happy to be beneath the wide Australian sky once again.

Charles Blackman in his Archway Road Studio in London, circa 1962. 


In 1970 the Blackmans moved to Paris. Among the only Australian artists credited to pull off a beret, Charles relished the city. He was awarded the atelier studio in the Cité des Artes and from here, his so-called ‘Golden Era’ of drawing bloomed. Populated with decidedly more mature sketches, Blackman shaped lavish nudes and blushing ladies. He also befriended fellow artist John Coburn and discovered Henry Miller. Despite only staying a year, he would return often to France, finding in it, immense inspiration.


Charles Blackman and family in Paris. Photograph by Axel Poignant
In 1977, Blackman was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) or services to Australian art. And in 1966, a portrait of the artist by Jon Molvig won the Archibald Prize.
Up until his death, Blackman continued to create art. More a compulsion than career, his love-affair with drawing never wilted. Instead, he continued again and again to find poetry through line - forging an artistic vision, that falls second only to his vision for life.


Charles Blackman with family at their home in Paddington Sydney. 


Browse our Charles Blackman collection, here.

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