Charles Blackman from the Maitland Regional Art Gallery

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Charles Blackman from the Maitland regional art gallery collection



Charles Blackman from the Maitland regional art gallery collection


Charles Blackman From the Maitland regional art gallery collection

Charles Blackman was only 24 when he held

Blackman was also an autobiographical artist

his first solo exhibition in 1952. In a review of the

and likened some of his works to mental snapshots

exhibition, art critic Alan McCulloch predicted

or “poetic Kodachomes”.4 There are many works

that Blackman would attain “a special place in

in the MRAG Collection that directly reflect

the Australian art of our time”. Charles Blackman

significant life moments, including drawings and

certainly did make his mark and, over his long

portraits of the people in his life. However the

career, became one of Australia’s most significant

most enlightening, and very special, is the letter he

and celebrated figurative artists.

wrote from London in 1965, Letter to Georges Mora, in

which he speaks of his latest work and his friends


Charles Blackman also holds a special place

in the Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG)

Barry Humphries, Mirka Mora, Colin Lanceley

Collection. There are more than three hundred

and John and Sunday Reed.

Blackman artworks in our Collection, and most

of the works are drawings, paintings and prints

support of Charles Blackman over many years and

on paper, donated to the Collection by the artist

this exhibition pays tribute to the artist’s life, work

himself between 2005 and 2012.

and legacy to Maitland.

In an interview with James Gleeson in 1979 2,

Blackman stated,

“I draw That is what I love most of all” and Blackman was a master draughtsman. He was known for his prolific output, making numerous

MRAG is very fortunate to have had the

We are also very pleased to have this support

continued by Charles Blackman’s family and I would like to thank his daughters Christabel and Bertie Blackman for their assistance with this exhibition and catalogue.

by Cheryl Farrell Collection Management Curator Maitland Regional Art Gallery

preliminary sketches and notes on paper as a part of his creative process, which he later resolved into completed works during the act of painting.3 In this exhibition of Charles Blackman artworks from the MRAG Collection we are privy to this process with a selection of his drawings and paintings alongside prints, collages and cut-outs, created over a period of more than forty years.

The major themes, series and motifs in

Blackman’s work across his career are evident across the range of his works held in the MRAG Collection: the hatted schoolgirls; influences from literature, including Alice in Wonderland; girls and flowers, and the female figure. There is also the cat, which features in the very first Blackman artwork acquired into the MRAG Collection in 1978, the etching Rainy Day.

1 Nadine Armadio Charles Blackman The Lost Domains, A.H. & A.W. Reed Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1980, p.10. 2 Charles Blackman, James Gleeson interviews: Charles Blackman 26/4/1979, The James Gleeson oral history collection, National Gallery of Australia, p.11. 3 Geoffrey Smith, “Which Way, Which Way? The Production and Reception of Alice in Wonderland ”, Smith G. and Moore F. S. Charles Blackman : Alice in Wonderland, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2006, p.21. 4 Felicity St John Moore, Charles Blackman : schoolgirls and angels, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1993, p.11.






1. Figure (Cut Out), c.1965, paper card, 26 × 32.5cm

7. Female portrait, c.1982, charcoal on paper, 101.5 × 76cm

2. Rainy Day, n.d., etching on paper, 14.5 × 14.5cm

8. Portrait (Halifax Hayes), c.1979, charcoal on paper, 83.5 × 59.3cm

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2008 Purchased with the assistance of the Art Gallery Society, 1978

3. Angel, c.1953-1958, ink on paper, 56 × 76.5cm

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2008

4. Barbara and Charles, n.d., pencil on paper, 53.4 × 42.5cm

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2008

5. Barbara, c.1952, pencil on paper, 81.5 × 53.5cm

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2008

6. Cut Outs (Children), 1964, pen and cutouts on paper cardboard 51 × 39.5cm. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2008

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2012

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2012

9. Proust, c.1976, oil on paper card, 100 × 83.5cm

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2012

10. Drink Me, c.1979, pencil on paper, 33 × 25.1cm, Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2008

11. Figures, n.d., photo silkscreen print on paper, 73 × 49.5cm (each)

Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Charles Blackman, 2012

Charles blackman

Charles Blackman (12/08/1928 - 20/08/2018)

or created whilst living in close quarters, such as

is one of Australia’s most revered and iconic

with Joy Hester and Gray Smith in Avonsleigh in

painters. Defined by the Antipodean Manifesto

1954 and poet laureate Judith Wright and philosopher

(February 1959) as a member of an emerging group

Jack McKinney on Tamborine Mountain in 1955.

of contemporary figurative artists, he is most

Literary influences also had a profound effect on his

renowned for his schoolgirl paintings and his series

work, from John Shaw Neilson (essentially his poem

on Alice in Wonderland, painted whilst he worked at

Schoolgirls Hastening), to Joyce, Carroll, Rimbaud

the famous Mirka Café in Melbourne. He won the

and Marcel Proust (Proust, c.1976).

Helena Rubinstein travelling scholarship in 1961,

which led him to a London life working and travelling

printmakers. With Royal Melbourne Institute

throughout Europe with Arthur Boyd, Brett Whiteley

of Technology (RMIT) in the 1950s and 1960s he

and Barry Humphries. Later he fell head over heels in

worked creating lithographs such as the schoolgirl

love with Paris, which he revisited constantly.

images and The Aspendale papers suite of prints,

Charles created many prints with innovative

During a childhood illness, Charles was given

including Angles of Time, 1966-1967. These were

some coloured crayons by his mother and that was it.

inspired by his coastal sojourn with Georges and

A life changer. He immediately understood the force

Mirka Mora at their Aspendale beach house, which

of the image, enabling him to become who he was.

was next door to friends John and Sunday Reed.

“You can’t stop people from being who they are” was

Charles Bannon at the Paddington Print Studio, a

one of his favourite sayings. Charles had always had

pioneer in independent printmaking, collaborated

an extraordinary insight into the complex language

with Charles on colourful silkscreens.

of the emotions and he had now found the tool to

express this in his own instinctive way. A seemingly

printmaker Shelley Rose approached him to etch

endless well of images surged forth from his brushes

on copper plates, creating prints such as Rainy Day.

and pens throughout his entire life.

In 1974 Matthew Perceval introduced Charles to

Satish Sharma, a master printer who had worked for

Drawing is the underlying denominator in all his

Midlife, bedridden and inspired by Goya, Sydney

artworks, whether it be a massive canvas layered in

Chagall and Miró. Satish came to work at Charles’

sheer colours, or the simplicity of an ink line drawing.

Paddington etching studio, Well House Press, where

He’d say

during this time he introduced new techniques and

“You can’t hide behind a line”

Charles left school at thirteen to become a copy

boy at the Sydney Morning Herald, where he drew comic strips and touched up photographs. This led to a sure sense of graphic composition; decisive on precisely what to leave in and, more importantly, what to leave out. As an impoverished young artist he made the most of whatever materials were on hand, often using the Conté crayons or tracing paper given to him by architect friend James Birrell. Drawings and paintings on paper were easily portable in a nomadic life.

Barbara Blackman, his first wife, was a life model

and became a constant muse, (Barbara, c.1952), as did his later wife Genevieve (Female Portrait, c.1982). Charles’ portraits revealed the inner nature of the sitter, as seen in the portraits of his friends, photographer Axel Poignant, and builder Halifax Hayes (Portrait- Halifax Hayes, c.1979). His close friendships with artists, poets and writers led to artworks either colluded on together, such as the Brett Whiteley collaboration, Portrait of Hitler/ Tears Tears, 1963,

striking innovative colours. The Mother Goose series of 21 drypoints was produced, including images such as When she came there the cupboard was bare, 1977. An exploration of new photographic techniques resulted in a series of experimental offset lithographs, based on the painting Two Women, 1961, and the prints were used as ‘grounds’ to paint over. These multiple prints, (Figures, n.d.) in various colours are group hung at Maitland Regional Art Gallery for the first time ever.

Creative dexterity shines through this varied

selection of Charles’ works and give us an insight into his working mind, how it ran fluidly and lucidly between the complex and the compelling, and through a simple gesture or moment, all could be expressed. He was a true master of the image. In his eighties, he joined artist Judy Cassab every fortnight for life drawing, like musicians keeping up their scales. A vital force in every sense, Charles kept drawing right up until his final days, creating illuminated and spiritual images.

By Christabel blackman

Charles blackman and the Maitland regional art gallery collec





AKNOWLEDGEMENTS First published in 2019 by Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) PO Box 220, Maitland NSW, 2320 | to accompany the exhibition Charles Blackman: from the Maitland Regional Art Gallery Collection Exhibition dates 23 February — 11 August 2019 © Maitland Regional Art Gallery © Christabel Blackman - essay All images copyright of the artist

Exhibition Curator: Cheryl Farrell Essay: Christabel Blackman Editing: Cheryl Farrell, Anne McLaughlin Design: Clare Hodgins Catalogue printing: WHO Printing ISBN: 978-0-6481664-6-7 MRAG is a proud service of Maitland City Council and is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.