OBITUARY: Charles Blackman (1928–2018)
By Phoebe Tam
Australian figurative painter Charles Blackman passed away in the morning of August 20, one week after celebrating his 90th birthday. He is survived by six children.
The Sydney-born artist began his career as a newspaper illustrator for the Sydney Sun at the age of 13. After moving to Melbourne, Blackman rose to prominence in the early 1950s with the exhibition of his “Schoolgirl” series (1952–55) of paintings and drawings. Partly inspired by the resurfacing of a 1921 cold case of murdered 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke in the news, Blackman’s vision of girlhood, though dreamlike, is shrouded in anxiety, vulnerability and isolation.
The artist is best known for his subsequent 1956 series, “Alice in Wonderland,” inspired by an audiobook of Lewis Carroll’s novel that his then-wife Barbara (née Patterson) had brought home. Some 40 paintings depict Alice, the white rabbit and other recognizable imagery from the beloved children’s story, infused with personal symbolism, such as his wife’s blindness and pregnancy, and references to surrealism.
Blackman played an active part in the Melbourne art scene, co-founding the Melbourne Contemporary Art Society in 1953 and becoming a key member of the figurative Antipodean Group. He was granted an Order of the British Empire in 1977 in honor of his services to art and culture in Australia. In 2010, Art Series Hotel Group opened the Blackman Hotel in St. Kilda Road, Melbourne, which features close to 700 digital reproductions of his work.
“He taught me to be fearless with everything in life. That beauty and poetry was in everything around us . . . That ‘art is life,’” singer-songwriter Beatrice “Bertie” Blackman said of her father in a statement to The Guardian. “It has been a privilege and an honor to be by his side during his last days on earth.”
The Charles Blackman Foundation’s “The Evening is the Morning,” slated to open on September 22 at the Harvey Galleries, began as a celebration of the artist’s 90 years, and is now billed as “a tribute to his life and career.”
Phoebe Tam is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.
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