Menzies Art Brands



The Twins c1954 is a large and important work of Charles Blackmans (born 1928) most notorious period and has increased, rather than diminished, with time in its articulation of a complex formal challenge.1 It is a schizophrenic portrait where femininity meets beast, the eye moves feverishly through the intense canvas with caution and excitement. The visual plane evokes a Rorschach, as if the twin figures are wrestling with their very reflection in a battle of self, identity and sanity.

The Picasso-doll look of this disturbing image is accentuated by a further Picasso borrowing: a beast-man with flaring nostrils upside down on what seems to be their apron. The borrowing anticipates post-modernism, not pastiche. The dark, wild man could be their ancestor or their fate: it hardly matters.2

But this painting is much more than a Picasso borrowing and well illustrates Blackmans unique approach to his subject matter. The visual plane is divided by rudimentary shapes and a vivid yet selective palette that reflects the sentiment of restlessness and unease. Whilst the two figures are separate, they are also somewhat conjoined - as if they are one. They share hair and body, their eyes melt into each other and their arms are outlined in strong line, one dark and one light, perhaps a reflection of the good and evil that surges within us all. An eternal struggle. As Felicity St John Moore observes; Vulnerability is, as always with Blackman, emphasised by hardening, not softening, structures.3

Femininity was an area of keen interest to Blackman, who explored the subject throughout his career and is crucial to the fundamental themes of his work. The present painting seems to marry Blackmans empathy with woman to his fondness for poetry and the metaphysical realm. The artist seems to project himself into this work, generating an emotional androgyny which evokes a spiritual sensibility of poetry in relation to the central figures.

Blackmans approach to figurative painting combined with his employment of surrealism is paramount to his success within the Melbourne antipodean school of art that lead to a revolutionary new way of painting. The Twins challenges and moves us, at once profound and unnerving. It is as edgy and evocative today as it was in its debut in the 1950s. It stands up to current day avant-garde art in its inventiveness and provocation, despite being created over half a century ago. It brings a striking presence to the viewer of confrontation and stimulation.

Charles Blackmans paintings from this period are held in the National Gallery of Australia, all state galleries and many regional galleries. His works are also held in major public, private and corporate collections in Australia and internationally as well as being cited and described in all important publications on Australian art history.

1. Shapcott, T., The Art of Charles Blackman, Andre Deutsch, London, 1989, illus. pl.36 pp.19-20
2. Ibid
3. St. John Moore, F., Schoolgirls and Angels, A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Charles Blackman, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1993, p.47

Tessa Dorman MA (Art History and Theory)

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