Auguste and Charles Blackman in 1961, two years before 'Nightfall' was drawn. Photograph by Mary Nolan, nee Boyd
Auguste, can you describe the original 'Nightfall'? What was the medium and the idea behind it? Is there any enduring significance to the image of the girl, who looks like she is floating in a dream?
The original drawing is compressed charcoal on fine drawing paper. Charles's interior world was about dreams coming to life and he is a master of expressing resonance in an image. The contrast between light and shade describes great drama. The girl floats in repose across the picture plane and yet is intrinsically connected to ‘mother earth’. She alone holds the secrets to mankind. We are invited into her world as the viewer, yet she is solitary, fully formed and complete.
Charles grew up in a house full of women after his father left - he was only four years old! He then spent his whole working life describing and understanding the ‘femina’. It is the intense emotion associated with women that compelled Charles to express his deepest emotion in such varied media. Also, his close relationship with Barbara who was losing her sight around the time the Alice paintings were made was equally impactful. At this point Charles was even more passionate about describing his feelings about women in paint. Charcoal was even more immediate - and gave cause to his darkness and tapped into the ‘well’ of his soul. There is no other artist that I have met who has such a command over charcoal and line the way that Charles does. His motto is “Wrap a line around a dream.”
Why was 'Nightfall' rarely seen by the public? Did Charles never sell/exhibit it?
‘Nightfall’ has been in the family and never been for sale. Sometimes the best smaller works are treasures for family to keep. It is our task to unearth unseen gems, to give a new found freedom to the works, and to thrill when someone sees fresh work for the first time. This is the role of publisher: to make sure the integrity of the image and artist are represented at the highest level.
Why did you choose 'Nightfall' for this project, to bring it back to life?
Charles’s work in black and white is rarely seen, and this is a particularly iconic image. Charles is a master draughtsman and we align his work with colourful flower paintings - but there is always a good drawing underneath every painting. If we research the paintings of this period you will find the artist underpins all of his work with the initial ideas in drawing, particularly charcoal, as charcoal provides the bridge between line work and the deep emotion of charcoal smudging.
Can you tell us about your background in printmaking?
I trained at the famous Georges Baldessin studio before opening our own etching studio/ workshop at 159 Paddington Street in 1976. We had one of the first motorised Enjay printing presses. I worked closely with Satish Sharma for 3 years producing a large number of Charles’ etchings. This was the greatest apprenticeship I could possibly have.. Satish came out to Australia from France with his family initially to work with the Percevals, Arthur and David Boyd. Satish had lived and worked closely with the Perceval and Boyd families in France. Satish was with the famous Galerie Maeght and printed for Miro and many other famous artists.
I also worked with John Robinson of Druckma Press at RMIT Editioning and hand rolling/inking 4 lithographs for Charles. John then bought an automated self inking Litho press and Druckma became the ‘go to’ place for all the major artists to work. I had a day with John Olsen at Druckma Press which was one of the most informative days of my printing life - working on ‘Giraffes at Mt. Kenya’.
Charles is the artist/father, you are the artist/son. Can you comment on this relationship?
During the 1970’s at 159 Paddington Street we established Well House Press. It was a pivotal time for our family as we became part of Charles working life as opposed to being simply ‘the children’. Christabel and I packed and sent Charles’s etchings, lithographs and silkscreens to galleries all over Australia and overseas. Barbara kept strict records and order during working hours. Such was the popularity of Charles images. Many artists and gallery dealers would frequent our house. The parties were legendary thanks to a grand table and fabulous cooking and wine.
What justice do you want to do for Charles' work? What significance does your involvement add to this project?
I had the privilege of driving Felicity St. John Moore to curate works for Charles’s major retrospective in 1992. I was shocked and overjoyed to see Charles great works in situ. It dawned on me that the public never gets to see the work once it has been bought. Away in a room rarely opened, in a massive house on Sydney Harbour I found The Wave Watchers 1967. It broke my heart to see this great work locked away in a giant prison. The Wave Watcher is coiled ready to spring into life representing so much of Charles time as a free and happy soul at the beach. A great happy time for all of us. I want to bring unseen work into the public arena, to honour the dedication that Charles gave to his craft. We are all familiar with the Alice works and many flower and garden paintings....but I assure you there is so much more to his depth of work. Fortunately, in this day and age we can chase down particular art works and by way of Charles's ownership of copyright, achieve our goal. It revisits the old partnership of father and son and brings family together.
What was it like working in such a close proximity to your father?
Working and collaborating in the studio from a young age created a bond that has never been broken. I learnt so much from Charles natural ability and confidence. We have an emotional bond and understanding of each other. We are in sync today after decades of working together. I also understood much about the modern printmaking process we are engaging with - so I can make suggestions that he will take on board regarding various ink mediums available and paper sizing. Charles particularly warms to stories of Bribie Island, Noosa, Tamborine Mountain of Avonsleigh and Melbourne times.