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Artist Biography

1928-2018

Charles Blackman was one of the most celebrated Australian figurative artists of the 20th century. Born in Sydney in 1928, Blackman grew up in Queensland before leaving school aged 13 and returning to Sydney to work as an illustrator for the Sydney Sun newspaper. He attended night classes at East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) from 1943 to 1946.

Blackman moved to Melbourne in 1951 and became one of the celebrated ‘Heide circle’ of artists (including Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester) centred at Heide, the home of art patrons John and Sunday Reed. It was not until he travelled to Melbourne in 1952 and became involved in the more sympathetic, figurative movement there that Blackman’s work gained direction and attracted attention for its individuality. Blackman’s first major series, ‘Schoolgirls’, created between 1952 and 1955, has long captured the public imagination for its vulnerability and menace. Further acclaim followed with his ‘Alice’ series with its symbolic-styled paintings featuring recurring images of children, flowers and cats and scenes based on Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland – introduced to him by his then wife Barbara Blackman who served as the model for Alice in these works. Produced from 1956 to 1957, the series includes more than 40 paintings of vivid and surreal imagination. In 1960, Blackman received the Helena Rubenstein Travelling Scholarship and moved to London for six years, where he exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery and the Tate Gallery. In 1970 he was awarded a Cité des Artes scholarship and spent a year in Paris. Blackman’s work is held in all major public collections in Australia and internationally including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate in London. Blackman was appointed an Officer of the British Empire in 1977 for services to Australian art. He died in August 2018.
Reference: The Paintings of Charles Blackman: The Substance of Dreams A. Alvarez (1965); Apparition A. Alvarez (1971); Lost Domains N. Amadio (1980); Charles Blackman, Paris Dreaming (Nadine Amadio) (1982); Modern Australian Painting 1950-1970 and Modern Australian Painting 1975-1980 K. Bonython; Australian Watercolour Painters J. Campbell (1983); The Years of Hope: Australian Art and Criticism 1958-1968 G. Catalano (1981); The Art of Charles Blackman T. Shapcott (1989)