Blackman by Bromley
DRAWN BY BLACKMAN | REIMAGINED BY BROMLEY
This exclusive collection of limited editions is a unique collaboration between two of Australia’s most loved and respected artists, Charles Blackman and David Bromley.
For Elissa Blake's article on the Blackman and Bromley collaboration, click here.
Charles Blackman’s whimsical, romantic figuratism has enchanted viewers for generations. Best known for his mid-1950s Schoolgirls works, a coveted Alice series (based on Lewis Carroll’s famous character) and a series of moody nudes, Blackman has all but retired from public view.
Old age and illness have no respect for talent. So it is for Blackman, who continues to work despite being stricken by dementia. However, the artist needs help to fulfil his vision. Enter artist David Bromley, who has created a series of bold works based on images from Blackman’s epic sketchbooks.
The Blackman Foundation authorised and licensed access to Blackman’s intellectual property to Bromley to ‘re-imagine’ and ‘rebirth’ key works from among Blackman’s previously unseen folios of ink drawings.
“I was utterly delighted to be asked and felt very privileged because Charles’ approach was already very much sitting inside of everything I love,” says Bromley. “I see my job as lending my physical capacity to manifest Charles’ works in colour and in scale. He doesn’t have the ability to work on a large canvas or with a complex range of materials now. His work is distilled to small drawings in ink. I’m using my insights and study to try to do justice to his work.”
Bromley’s own paintings of nudes, children, birds and butterflies are among the most recognisable of contemporary Australian artists.
“Blackman is one of my heroes,” Bromley says. “As a boy, I loved fairy tales and alternative realities and narratives with dreamlike qualities. Charles’ approach to art, the way he takes you down the rabbit hole, is something that has always appealed to me. His is a language I’ve always been able to relate to.”
The appeal of Charles Blackman’s art is unusually broad, says Bromley. “I think sometimes the language and concepts elaborated by artists only speak to a small percentage of the population. But great art can work on so many levels – especially for people who believe they know very little about art. I think everybody can be enchanted by Charles’ work.”
Blackman got his start working for the Sydney Sun in the mid-1940s, where one of his jobs was to copy cartoon strips. That apprenticeship would have a lingering stylistic impact on his strongly lined and coloured work.
Blackman rose to national prominence alongside John Brack, Arthur Boyd, David Boyd, John Perceval, Clifton Pugh and Robert Dickerson. John and Sunday Reed, founders of Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art, were early supporters.
Today, his works are housed in every state collection and are prized by private collectors: Blackman’s Alice Chess painting alone sold for $1.78 million last year.
Blackman lived life large; however, for the past 20 years he has been in the grip of Korsakoff Syndrome, an alcohol-related disorder. He requires round-the-clock care and a percentage of proceeds from the sale of Blackman by Bromley prints goes to the artist’s care costs.
That Blackman continues to draw is remarkable, says Bromley. Its vivacity is surprising. “I see this period of illness as his third creative phase of painting. I think you could say these works are hugely important and they flow very easily and naturally from him. His capacity to pull out characters and be playful, even in his diminished state, is there.”
Bromley compares Blackman’s ink drawings to the works Henri Matisse created in his late years. “He was incapacitated, too, but he cut out these shapes and arranged them on paper and many are regarded as being among his major works. It’s the same with Picasso. I’ve had conversations with people who see his final works as lost to parody, whereas other people talk about it as some of his finest.”
The images assembled for the Blackman by Bromley collection have been sourced from sketchbooks. “Some are years old, others are right up to date,” Bromley says. “In some, he’s just working with line and motion while other works are more complete. I’ve tried to put a selection together that tells a broader story.”
The series of prints Bromley has created are informed by Blackman’s palette. “I like to think that if he were able to work on a canvas, this is how they may have ended up,” Bromley says. “It’s about trying to make thoughtful decisions. I have thought about the responsibility a great deal. That’s why we’re calling this series Blackman by Bromley. They are like a conversation between me and him.”
Bromley sees the collaboration as an opportunity for the great man to speak to a new audience. “He’s a hero, a traveller, he’s taken great risks,” Bromley says. “I see this as doing my bit for a man who can’t speak for himself in large social forums any more. We are championing him, bringing some colour and form to his recent works, and getting people to look at what he’s done. It’s like we’re pouring love over it.”read less