Menzies Art Brands



Interior with Girl 1986, is a classic example of Charles Blackmans ability to evoke an alternative realm in which the commonplace is a backdrop to a fanciful state. Blackmans images of girls and women set in interior spaces and suburban streets captured the imagination of the Australian public when they were first exhibited in the 1950s and 60s. They set the bar for artists to emulate in this country and looked back to Odilon Redon (1840-1916) and his Symbolist contemporaries for both inspiration and ideas.

The combination of reality and fantasy is considered a hallmark of late 19th and early 20th century French symbolist art. Redon was one of the most famous practitioners of the Symbolist style, achieving great success with sumptuous works such as Silence, Closed Eyes and Girl with Poppies. He painted amorphous females floating in an indeterminate space, eyes pinched or half-closed, closely attuned to their inner thoughts and in a reality not of this world.

Charles Blackmans paintings resist easy interpretation; they are charming open-ended narratives in which decorative patterns, bold contrasts in colour, strong formal elements and the placement and scaling of objects create a pervading mood. His ability to conjure dreamy, introspective visions and designs is a characteristic that earned him the mantle of an inspired and ingenuous image-maker, both here and on the world stage.

Born in Sydney, Charles Blackman left school before he was fourteen and largely taught himself how to paint. From 1942 until 1947, he worked in the art department of the Sydney Sun newspaper, taking evening classes at the East Sydney Technical School and at the Meldrum school. In early 1948 Blackman hitchhiked to Brisbane where he met many young artists and writers, including his wife-to-be Barbara Patterson, who influenced his artistic development. In Brisbane he was introduced to the work of modern European masters. Back in Sydney in 1950, Blackman reconnected with Barbara and the couple moved to Melbourne where they married in 1951.

Once in Melbourne, Blackman catapulted into prominence. He formed an association with like-minded artists who kept faith in painting and figurative art at a time when international abstraction had become all the rage. With his famous Schoolgirl and Alice in Wonderland series Blackman alternated between fantasy and realism. He examined his own vulnerabilities and explored the motivations of adolescent girls and boys. By the end of the decade these Melbourne pictures had evolved into paintings of single figures in deep sleep or revelling under some ethereal spell. Blackman was also responding to the declining eyesight of Barbara, exploring the inner world of his wife and their deep connection and, by extension, the omnipresent element of love.

Interior with Girl 1986, is a mature expression of Blackmans interest in dream states and the relationship between a central protagonist and her own private, innermost thoughts. He reduces the domestic scene to the relationship between the figure and a still life tableau set at an oblique angle to the picture plane. By orchestrating the canvas in this way Blackman introduces a note of deliberate ambiguity is it a simple table setting, a picture within the picture or even a view through a window onto another alternative reality or world?

The figure is equally ambiguous in character. Though unmistakably female, she possesses traits that resemble the fine features and characteristic profile of the artist himself. Afforded time and space to reflect, the intense concentration or musing is reinforced by the closed eyes, backward head-tilt and an angled posture that looks like it is being pulled away. The palette is deliberately muted and almost embryonic in tone. Thinly applied swathes of paint further add to the delightful sense of mystery and highlight Blackmans rare talent in conjuring both whimsical and magical scenes.

Rodney James BA (Hons.) MA


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