19 June, 2008

Blackman's Schoolgirls

Girls and women, wives and mistresses, have played a crucial role in Blackman's life, and the female in her various forms re-appears in his paintings time after time.

"Of these most powerful invocations, the image of women is perhaps the strongest, such that he has painted woman in a fashion rarely ventured by other painters," writes Nadine Amadio in a book on Blackman. "His paintings of women reach the emotions, the dreams and the inner world of women . . ."

That is not so surprising when you learn he was born in Sydney in 1928, the only boy in a family with three girls. As his father walked out when he was four, he was the boisterous son in a family of excitable women and their influence seems to have pervaded his life and imagination.

Perhaps that is why schoolgirls became as much part of his earlier paintings as the harlequin did for Picasso or the guitar for Braque. ``I just started drawing my schoolgirl pictures, they just came out,'' Blackman once said. ``It takes a long time to get to the door, once you pass through the veil or once you pass through the surface of the idea, then it all comes pouring out.''

The schoolgirl paintings later led to the Alice in Wonderland series of pictures that are now highly expensive collectors' items. What attracted him to Alice, he recalled, was that ``once you go through the mirror, everything is possible. It had to do with my feelings about feminity and the fact that scale, size and relationships were altered ...''

One picture from the series titled The Madhatter's Tea Party that he sold in 1956 for 20 guineas, was knocked down for $430,500 at a Deutscher-Menzies auction in May last year - setting a new saleroom record for the artist and pushing him to the top ranks of high-priced painters for the first time in half-a-century.

full article - the age



....Blackman once said the schoolgirl pictures had a lot to do with fear: ``A lot to do with my isolation as a person and my quite paranoid fears of loneliness. It wasn't until I started painting schoolgirls that Sunday Reed (wife of John Reed the famed patron of artists such as Nolan and Boyd) showed me John Shaw Neilson's poetry about school girls; they were full of a kinship, the sort of thing that I was painting fitted in with it perfectly.''

..... Among a chaotic pitter-patter of details and noisy paint, Alice's head is schematised as a nicely defined tonal egg with pursed lips, generally riding on the same angle as that set by the stiff shaft of the neck. It inevitably gives Blackman's Alice a hypnotically goofy look.

Even more than the upstanding ears of the white rabbit, Alice's abnormal head with flashes of yellow hair arises almost in fulfilment of the Freudian caricature of Lewis Carroll's Alice. Beginning as a hoax, a theory had circulated since the 1940s, interpreting the rising and shrinking of the girl's physique as a projection of the male organ (and desire for the girl). This spurious theory informed the moral charge against Carroll's own photography of little girls, Alice included.

full article - the age

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