Charles Blackman is one of Australia’s greatest living artists. Now 86, Blackman’s most prolific days are behind him, but two of his children have joined forces with a vision to celebrate and produce new artifact collections that reframe his extraordinary legacy.
Under the direction of Bertie and Felix Blackman, The Blackman Studio offers a contemporary re-imagining of the iconic work of Charles Blackman.
The Blackman Studio is a new project founded by Aria award winning recording artist and daughter of Charles Blackman, Bertie Blackman, and her brother Felix Blackman, a graduate architect and award winning graphic designer. Together, Felix and Bertie have spent the past two years realising this ambitious project. They’re only too aware of their father’s immense legacy, and have carefully navigated the politics and weighty responsibility bestowed upon them in re-imagining his extraordinary life’s work.
Working closely with the Charles Blackman Foundation, The Blackman Studio has authority to license Charles Blackmans’ iconic imagery, to re-contextualize and rebirth a new body of work which blurs the boundaries of art and design. The debut collection includes a range of limited edition prints, embroidered and paper cut works, ceramic pieces, and a beautiful series of bronze sculptures, which give Blackman’s distinctive painted characters 3-dimensional form.
A project of this scale and cultural responsibility does not come about without expert guidance and consultation. The launch of Blackman Studio has been facilitated partly through close collaboration with Melbourne artist David Bromley, an old friend of both Bertie and Felix. After originally conceiving the idea, Bertie sought Bromley’s advice on how to approach the daunting task of reimagining key elements from Blackman’s archive to create a new distinct body of work. With the assistance of David and his wife and business partner Yuge Bromley, Bertie and Felix have created their first impressively varied collection of limited editions prints, sculptural works and smaller accessories, entitled ‘Blackman + Bromley’.
We chatted to Bertie Blackman about the launch of this very special project –
Tell us a little about Blackman Studio – how long has this project been in development, and how did the idea first come about?
Formally, Blackman studio has been in development for the last two years, but you could say that it has been a lifetime in the making. Felix, my brother, and I went to see Tom Lowenstein (a dear friend and head trustee of Dad’s estate), at his office one day about helping to build a ‘Charles Blackman’ website. Instead we walked out filled with new ideas for something altogether much larger!
It has really come to fruition very naturally. We are not gallery directors, but rather, are artistic practitioners in our own way. We pondered if, rather than be mere agents of Blackman, we could immerse ourselves and begin to propagate new and reimagined Blackman works. We thus launched the Blackman Studio, a wonderfully interactive and participative project.
The project has not only been about how we will navigate the legacy of Blackman, but also it has been about getting to spend time with our father, by inhabiting his artworks. This has been a deeply emotional, humbling and complex and personal journey for us. Our Dad hasn’t been well since we were children, so as adults we are able to have this extraordinary relationship with our father that we never thought we would have the opportunity to have. I think it is a great gift that our father has bestowed on us, and to continue to share and re-imagine the works of Charles Blackman is very personal for us. He is our father, but he is also one of the true greats of Australian Art and in our opinion belongs in the realm of Matisse, Picasso and all the other Masters.
How does The Blackman Studio operate in collaboration with the Blackman Foundation, and what are your own personal roles within the project?
Felix, and I are the Directors of the Blackman studio. This bears many responsibilities and politics that we must navigate, to our father, his legacy, our family, and Australian art and culture. Our mission is to bring back to the art world a new found culture of Blackman. We have been given direct authority and full license to access the intellectual property bestowed on us by the Charles Blackman Foundation: to explore, re-imagine, re-contextualize and rebirth an extraordinary life’s work.
We operate independently from the Charles Blackman Foundation, but we do work closely with Tom Lowenstein in order to make sure our visions are complementary.
Felix and I both have our own set of very different skills that we bring to the table. I am a practicing artist in my own right, and over the past decade in the music industry have learnt a great deal about vision, branding, and actualisation of creative ideas and big picture dreams. Felix is a graduate architect and also a graphic designer who brings an in depth knowledge of the philosophies and methodologies of art and design. I tend to come up with slightly outrageous ideas, and Felix comes in and gently brings it back to an a achievable reality. It’s a wonderful push and pull between us, which gives great balance and is very dynamic. We have all left and right brain thinking covered, so to speak, and this I think really emerges in the work we are producing, which blurs the boundaries and edges of art and design.
Most wonderful is that the Studio has really nurtured our relationship as brother and sister, and we know in our heart that this would make Dad happy.
You’ve worked closely with David and Yuge Bromley to realise the Blackman Studio’s impressive debut collection of works, ‘Blackman + Bromley’. How did this collaboration come about?
After meeting with Tom, I telephoned David Bromley to talk to him about coming on board to help us bring to fruition such an immense legacy. David has always been a huge fan of my fathers’ work, and is the most hard working and passionate artist I know. David and Yuge also have an extraordinary capacity to actualise their own work with immense scale, vision, creativity, style, and above all else… enormous hearts. I felt that this would be the perfect fit for ‘going down the rabbit hole’ into Charles’ worlds, and to begin to create new paths into the imagination and this wildly romantic and textural world.
David and Yuge have worked all hours, and put all of their incredible infrastructure into manifesting the Blackman + Bromley collection, and the result really takes your breath away.
The Blackman Studio Blackman + Bromley collection includes limited edition prints, paper cuts, and bronze sculptures – how did you decide upon the works which would form the basis of this debut collection?
It was challenging and exciting to decide how and where we would break into such an enormous and amazing body of work. Blackman is one of Australia’s most prolific artists, in terms of the sheer quantity of art that he produced. So in the spirit of his artistic practice, we started by simply putting pen to paper.
Ideas do not begin without jumping in head first, hearts ablaze. – Bertie Blackman.
We all sat down at a table with David and Yuge Bromley and began a wonderful conversation based around what we loved about Charles and his life in art. Everything just flowed from there.
For the bronze sculptures we wanted to display an array of different subject matter, to see how people responded, and also how we would respond. What we are discovering is the strength in the imagery – we are seeing an equal response to Blackman’s most well known imagery as to the unknown sculptures.
For the limited edition prints we also explored an array of imagery – these works are wonderful figments of imagination, each line captures a moment and a mood in Dad’s life, and each print allows a window into his psyche. We have also been working with imagery of Charles’ most recent works of the past decade.
So in essence it is a mixture of the most well known Alice in Wonderland and schoolgirl imagery, to largely unseen imagery, to really try to portray the immense scope and depth of such a brilliant man. What we are interested in is the gradient of works – you cannot judge an artist by their most renowned works, but really from a full examination of their body of work. We think his most recent works are equally as important as his original and more revered works. These images are still ever present in his mind despite his health.
The Blackman Studio collection can currently be viewed and purchased via Bromley & Co in Melbourne and Daylesford. Ceramic pieces start from $65, through to bronze sculptures priced between $5000 – $35,000.