(c) Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency, 2021
30. CHARLES BLACKMAN
Charles Blackman is a literary artist in the truest sense, since his paintings are not concerned with external realities so much as ‘the life of the imagination.’1 As Robert Hughes observes, Blackman’s art is ‘lyrical, poetic, rich in fantasy, and sometimes gently close to a kind of provincial surrealism.’2 Blackman’s paintings are often characterised by their peculiar timelessness, deliberately constructed so as to create an enclosed, fantastical world within the picture plane.
The Dance c1988 is a remarkable painting of two women absorbed in the spirit and rhythm of their dance. With legs slightly bent, the two figures step forward in time, their front feet barely contained within the frame. Blackman implies a sense of introspection between the two women, their gaze cast downward and bodies turned apart. And yet they are clearly attuned to one another’s presence, as shown by their synchronised movement. Blackman captures a tension inherent in dancing – and in life itself – between our internal and external awareness; the need to maintain an equilibrium between the self and the ‘outside world’.
The formal origins of the present work may be found in Blackman’s celebrated ‘Faces and Flowers’ paintings from the late 1950s; in particular The Ceremony 1959. These works were distinguished by their clarity of form, vibrant primary colours and elaborate use of chiaroscuro. Pointing to the influence of Byzantine and early Renaissance art on Blackman’s imagery of this period, Bryan Robertson wrote in 1961:
He has made icons from the commonplace material of domestic life. The fragile gestures and spontaneous movements among people in the streets around us are caught, and made eloquent. Blackman’s sense of formal rightness and inevitability is so fastidious, so unswervingly accurate, that the drama never for a single second descends into rhetoric, or formal contrivance.3
As illustrated by The Dance, these qualities may still be seen in Blackman’s best paintings of the 1970s and 80s. The heavily shadowed figures in red and blue are juxtaposed against a shimmering golden backdrop. In the absence of any perspective, the dancers hover in space, filling the entire composition with their bold, upright form. Through Blackman’s artful use of colour, shadow and proportion, the dancers acquire a monumental presence that transcends the everyday nature of their activity.
The Dance is a superb example of Blackman’s practice at this time, as a highly refined expression of the artist’s ‘inner poetic vision.’4
1. Shapcott, T., The Art of Charles Blackman, Andre Deutsch, London, 1989, p.xiii
2. Hughes, R., The Art of Australia, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 1970, p.243
3. Bryan Robertson, quoted in Shapcott, T., The Art of Charles Blackman, p.36
4. Hawley, J., Artists in Conversation, The Slattery Media Group, Melbourne, 2012, p.277
Catherine Baxendale, B Phil (Hons), MA (Art Curatorship)