Referring to the meeting of the day and night – i.e. twilight, in Bertie’s context ‘Crepuscule’ is also the alternative-dimension hangout of Benjamin, the last ever Tasmania tiger, and his merry band of wide-eyed friends. ‘Clever, cunning and mischievous, he evades captivity by leaping through the veils of dreams and reality… through the Crepuscule… bending time and space,’ the artist narrates.
Extending this concept, all of Bertie’s oil paintings for the exhibition are dominated by the colour indigo, built up in darkening layers. The hue really reverberates the feeling of twilight for the artist, and she also loves the way the word sounds: ‘a bit like you’re already bending and squinting the light with the letters; it’s an unusual word, so people are very curious about it!’
It’s no surprise that Bertie would make an audible link, given that many people know the ARIA award-wining singer, songwriter and guitarist for her music. Though busy building her multifarious BB empire, the candid creative took some time out to delve deeper into her current paintings, AND dolls!
Many readers would know you first and foremost as Bertie Blackman the musician, but can you tell us a little bit about your background as a visual artist?
I come from a family of artists, writers and creatives alike… so for me, visual art has always been a strong way of communicating. I have always drawn and painted but, because my parents are both painters, I ended up steering away from it as I really wanted to create my own path. A musician is as rebellious as I could get in my family!!
Throughout my musical career I’ve art directed my shoots and videos, created stage designs, and painted costumes. In 2009, I had an auction of drawings at Moss Green Gallery, but it wasn’t until 2012 with my fourth record ‘Pope Innocent X’, that I really started concentrating on my drawing. For that album, I released a book of illustrations with each song; I realised that art, music and writing really just all came from the same place for me. And I didn’t need to be one or the other.
Growing up with both parents as visual painters, I witnessed extraordinary discipline and sacrifice from them when it came to their art. I learnt about the reality of what being a practising artist is really like – the blood sweat and tears that go into your work, and the extraordinary work ethic needed.
My art practice has really developed through just doing it, looking at books and persevering with the mediums. I have had no formal education, but I’ve got big dreams and big ideas! I’m forever shaking with adrenaline because I just find it all so exciting!
Your most recent album, ‘The Dash’, was released in late 2014, and since then you’ve also done some amazing collaborations. How do you balance your music with your art?
I do really struggle with balancing my music and art. I have learnt pretty quickly that I can only really do one thing at a time.
I tend to allocate big blocks of time for each. With my current art show, I put aside a solid block of three months. I’m finishing that body of work up, I’m already connecting the next thing. However, I’m also writing and illustrating my first children’s picture book, which will be published in 2018. I would say I spend about eight hours or so a day in my art studio five days a week and then I work nights on my writing.
In between all of this, I have been ducking into various studio sessions, though I’m looking forward to getting into the recording studio more later this year. I’m also an early morning riser. I wake up at about 5am and usually meditate or go for a run to prepare for the day.
Your solo show ‘Crepuscule’ is currently on exhibit in Melbourne. Can you tell us more about this exhibition?
I’m really excited about this body of work. I started working on it quite a few months ago – really working on my painting and developing my technique. For me, I have no lack of ideas or imagery, it’s just been ‘the technical doing’ that has been the challenge and also needing the time to make all the mistakes and learn what the paint can do.
I’ve only been working with oil paints for about nine months, so when I started, I thought it would be an interesting idea to just work with one colour, so I could concentrate on getting the texture and feeling in it without worrying about mixing paint. I love the indigo hue so much; it feels very otherworldly!
For this show, I’ve also made dolls, and bringing my imagery into a playful three-dimensional form has been exhilarating. They’ve become my little friends – I do take them out to dinner sometimes for a treat as well as long walks on the beach. I’m a big fan of Mirka Mora, she’s a great old friend of my father’s and I love her dolls, so this is a little nod to her wonderfulness!
Was there a particular story that inspired the concept for this body of work?
Benjamin the Tasmanian tiger has been a feature in my work for the last six months. He is inspired by the actual last living Tasmanian tiger who died in captivity in 1936. I love the constant conversation and debate as to whether this creature is actually extinct. Personally, I think he is still alive, and I’m hoping that through conjuring him in his ‘Crepuscule’ it might bring him back.
A lot of my work has been hinged in floating spaces or abstract dream worlds, this is the first series that I have brought the imagery into a landscape. I used to play in the rainforest a lot as a child, so I really think that Benjamin and his friends are totems of my childhood – me reliving those curious moments of abstract memory.
What’s it like being the daughter of a OBE bestowed, acclaimed painter, and creating your own art?
I think because my father is Charles Blackman, I definitely shied away from having a career in the visual arts as I really wanted to make my own way. I don’t want to live in his shadow, I mean, it’s a blessing and a curse. Because a lot of people know who my father is, doors have opened probably a little easier for me than others, but the criticism has been far greater because the expectations are much, much higher.
I have, however, worked really hard in the arts for over a decade and I think I’ve carved out a little space for myself to grow quite naturally. I’m incredibly passionate and dedicated to my art forms and people know this of me.
I most definitely get my singular thinking and focus from my Dad, as well as the wild untamed imagination and thirst for the abstract and curious. But I have also inherited other lovely things from my mother in terms of my art practise as well.
I think if the work’s good then it doesn’t matter how famous your parents are, it should be able to stand alone.
Who are some other Australian creative people that are you loving at the moment?
Luke Storrier and I have had a great time recently bonding over having a famous artist father and also being artists ourselves, in our own right. His work is brilliant and exciting and I’m looking forward to collaborating with him.
Ian Strange is just one of the most interesting artists I have met. I love his vision, he pushes all boundaries.
McLean Edwards is a wonderful painter, and such a wonderful eccentric man. One of the family!
What are some of the resources you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
The library. Books are just necessary and essential in my life.
Outside. Going outside and sitting in the gutter and looking at peoples shuffling feet and framing birds and dogs and shadows.
My Mother. I call her daily for a chat about the work I’m making and she really helps make sense of my abstract thoughts sometimes.
Pinterest. I use it a lot to gather visual references.
What’s been your proudest creative achievement to date?
That is a very hard question! I think singing with Danny Elfman and a 100-piece orchestra at the Adelaide Festival, and also co-curating ‘Sonic Canvases’ at the Art Gallery of NSW have been a couple of major highlights and pleasures.
Also, just being able to exist as a practising artist my entire career without having to get a ‘proper’ job!
What would be your dream creative project?
I would love to create an underground lair in Antarctica… make dolls, paint, sing, write, and turn all my dreams into imagery… a language that can be understood by the moon and stars!
Amazing! What’s a little closer on the horizon for Bertie Blackman?
I’m excited to be painting my next bodies of work, to be writing and illustrating my first children picture book for release in 2018, recording a new record, and making a series of dolls. I’ve got big dreams. Gotta start laying the blocks for empire BB!
Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood?
Redfern… it’s my neighbourhood! I love it!
The best meal you recently had in Sydney?
Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point. It’s always amazing and it’s my favourite Italian food in Sydney.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
At my local Redfern coffee shop getting a take away coffee and reading in the park – that’s if I’m not painting in my studio!
Sydney’s best kept secret?
The beaches are all amazing. But that’s no secret…