VALE Charles Blackman

Remembering the incredible life and career of Charles Blackman OBE, who has passed away one week after his 90th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

Regarded as one of the most important figurative painters in Australia, Blackman – who is best known for his ‘Schoolgirl’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series – crafted a unique artistic vision exploring the dualities of the human condition: innocence and experience, fantasy and fact, dreams and nightmares, beauty and savagery. Spanning painting, drawing, sculpture and tapestry, his artistic practice invited us into worlds where anything was possible.

Born in Sydney in 1928, Blackman left school at thirteen to work as a newspaper illustrator. Largely self-taught, he moved to Melbourne in 1952 where he co-founded the Melbourne Contemporary Art Society and became involved in the figurative painting movement gaining traction there. Blackman painted his ‘Schoolgirl’ series in the ‘50s, and later that decade he began his celebrated ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series – comprising forty paintings – after hearing Lewis Carroll’s whimsical tale. In 1959 Blackman formed the Antipodean movement with six other artists, including Arthur Boyd and John Brack, in protest against the perceived dominance of abstract expressionism. He later studied and travelled overseas, exhibiting at the Whitechapel and Tate galleries in London, and in 1977 Blackman was awarded an OBE for his contribution to the arts. Blackman spent much of his later life out of the public eye after he was diagnosed with the memory disorder Korsakoff’s syndrome.

The family recently celebrated Charles’ 90th birthday and he had been working with the family on an extensive celebratory exhibition titled ‘The Evening is the Morning’, that will now be a tribute to his life and career, opening at Harvey Galleries on 22 September 2018.

His daughters, Bertie and Christabel, have been newly appointed co-managers of the Charles Blackman Foundation. Bertie Blackman reflects, ‘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.’

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