Charles Blackman was born in Sydney on 12 August, 1928 and was known as a romantic figurative painter, using most media. Blackman also worked as a printmaker.
Blackman attended drawing classes at East Sydney Technical College from 1943 until 1946 and in 1945 for a short period of time as a press artist on the Sydney Sun newspaper. He then moved to Melbourne and married, supporting himself by working as a cook in restaurants and finding time when he could to paint. His impoverished situation improved when he received the patronage of John Reed who drew the attention of newspaper critics to Blackman’s work.
In 1950, Blackman began to paint full-time and was active in the re-establishment of the influential Contemporary Art Society, serving as acting Vice-President in 1954.
During his life, Blackman has openly acknowledged the influence and inspiration of the works of poets and writers on his paintings, notably the poetry of John Shaw Neilson whose poems show a great love for words associated with colour and emotion. Also of great importance to his early development as an artist was the influence of his first wife and early model, Barbara, who overcame the handicap of blindness to embark on her own independent career as a writer and poet.
Describing the unique emotive quality of Blackman’s work, the Australian art critic, James Gleeson has said:
“There is nothing really mysterious about a Blackman painting – only something very, very rare, for he is the most truly tender and warm-hearted of our contemporary Australian painters.
By some trait of personality he has been able to preserve a child’s sensitivity to people and objects. None of his responses have become calloused, nor has familiarity deadened his feelings in any way. Almost entirely autobiographical, his paintings are a record of love – not of physical passion, but of a love in the richest, fullest sense – the sense in which the mind, spirit and body are totally involved.”
Charles Blackman became famous with a number of beautiful series, notably the School Girl series and his large scale works from the Alice in Wonderland series. The success that launched him on his travels and studies overseas was the winning of the 1960 Helena Rubinstein Scholarship.
In 1961 and 1962, Blackman’s work was included in the Whitechapel and Tate Gallery exhibitions in London, both of which helped to make the greater world familiar with the existence of contemporary Australian art. In 1965 a tour of northern France and Flanders led to a series of Blackman tapestries woven in Portugal, which were shown in Australia in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. In the 1970s his paintings of cats and gardens inspired by Proust’s writings revealed a softening of vision.
Throughout his career Blackman exhibited prolifically, the great strength of his work being his drawing ability. He held fifteen one-man shows between 1950 and 1960, including: Mattiesen Gallery, London 1961; Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane 1963 & 1966; South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne 1964 & 1966; Clune Gallery, Sydney 1965; Festival of Perth Invitation Exhibition 1966; “Retrospective Drawing” Exhibition, Adelaide Festival 1974 (including his Portuguese tapestries); Homage to Surfers Paradise and Ode to St Albans, Canberra 1976; Colette at Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney & Australian Galleries, Melbourne 1977; the Australian Painting Exhibition, Whitechapel, London; Biennial de Jeunes, Paris (with Whitely and Daws) 1961; British Arts Council Show touring UK & Germany; “Australians Abroad” Exhibition, Folkestone, UK; Saigon, “Twenty Nations” Exhibition; “Hallmark Awards” Exhibition, USA and Whitechapel Gallery, London 1962; Australian Painting Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London 1963; “Four Australian Painters”, Queens Square Gallery, Leeds UK and “Art for Science” Exhibition, Canterbury UK 1964; Towner Gallery, Eastbourne UK; Zwemmer Gallery, London; “Young Australians”, Tokyo & Koyoto Japan 1965; Mertz Collection, Washington DC USA 1967; Tokyo Japan (solo) 1973; Hong Kong Exhibition at the Australian Royal Commission 1978; Alice in Wonderland, Heide Gallery, Melbourne 1983; Greenhill Galleries, Adelaide Festival 1984; Ray Hughes, Brisbane 1985; Holdsworth, Sydney 1985; Tolarno, Melbourne 1987; BMG Adelaide 1988; Greenhill, Perth 1988; Charles Hodrum, Melbourne 1988; BMG Sydney 1989, Leonard Gallery 1988; Tokyo 1989; Savill Galleries, Sydney 1989.
In 1993 a major retrospective of his work was curated by Felicity St. John Moore for the National Gallery of Victoria and toured to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Brisbane City Hall & Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. This exhibition reinforced Blackman’s great contribution to Australian art – especially through his works of the 1950’s to the 1970’s. It included several examples of paintings from 1990 to 1992, which were much more in line with his works of the 1960’s.
Apart from his exhibitions, Charles Blackman was active in many other areas: he produced a series of genre paintings and paintings from the nude (1972) from which Sony Corporation presented Girl Listening to Music to the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House; lived for a term at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and produced a volume of drawings of that city; exhibited in Canberra 1975, Brisbane 1976 and Melbourne 1977; worked on the theme of the American writers Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald 1973 and the French writers Colette and Willy 1976; collaborated with English poet Al Alvarez on a book Apparition published by University of Queensland Press 1971, and with Geoffrey Lehmann on the book Australian Primitive Painters published by University of Queensland Press 1977; worked directly out of time spent in other environments – Quinns Rocks, W.A. exhibited in Perth 1976; St Albans, N.S.W. exhibited in Canberra 1976 and Surfers Paradise exhibited in Brisbane 1976; Produced graphics in several media serigraphs with Barbara Coburn 1976 and Charles Bannon 1977, lithographs with John Robinson at RMIT 1977, etchings with Shelley Rose 1976 and Satish Sharma 1977.
During his prolific career, Charles Blackman won several prestigious awards, including: Rowney Prize, Melbourne, 1959; Helena Rubinstein Travelling Scholarship, Melbourne 1960; Crouch Prize, Ballarat 1960; Dyason endowment award, Melbourne 1960; Silver Medal, “Twenty Nations” Exhibition, Saigon 1962; Awarded OBE and Queens Jubilee Medal in 1977 for services to the arts.
Examples of Charles Blackman’s work are represented at the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, Newcastle City Art Gallery, Ballarat City Art Gallery, University of Queensland, University of Victoria, Monash University, University of Western Australia, University of South Australia, Museum of Modern Art of Australia, Australian National University, Reserve Bank of Australia, Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, Contemporary Art Society in London, Nottingham City Art Gallery & Worcester Museum in the UK, Hallmark Gallery in the USA and many private collections in Australia and overseas.
Blackman passed away on 20 August, 2018, a week after his 90th Birthday.