Born in Sydney in 1928, Charles Blackman spent his childhood in Queensland before leaving school at the age of thirteen to work as an illustrator for the Sydney Sun newspaper while attending classes at the East Sydney Technical School. He kept his illustrating job for five years and studied between 1943 and 1946.
When Blackman moved to Melbourne in 1952, this proved to be a pivotal time in his career as he quickly made a name for himself and helped to re-establish the Contemporary Art Society. Blackman became particularly well-known within art circles for his Schoolgirl and Alice in Wonderland series. Containing strong psychological and dreamlike connotations, these works were based on symbolic interpretations which clearly demonstrated Blackman’s ‘regional’, rather haunting style and shared similarities with Sidney Nolan and Bob Dickerson’s way of painting. As a result of his initial success and warm reception from the Australian art world, Blackman gained the recognition and support of renowned critic and art patron, John Reed.
In the exhibitions he held at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Blackman showed himself to be a prolific worker with great promise when he gained prominence following a press controversy in the Melbourne Herald caused by the reproduction of his drawing, The Swimmer. However, it was not until 1959 that Blackman received official recognition when he was awarded the Rowney prize for drawing. Following this success, he went on to win the £1,300 Helena Rubinstein Scholarship in Melbourne, 1960. In 1959, Blackman became a signatory to the Antipodean Manifesto which was a statement protesting the dominance of abstract expressionism. He was also a member of the Antipodeans Group.
1960 proved itself to be Blackman’s year of achievement for he also won the Dyeson Endowment Award in NSW and the Crouch Prize at Ballarat. Consequenty, these wins enabled Blackman to raise funds for a trip to London where he exhibited at the Whitechapel Open Exhibition in 1961 and the Tate Gallery Exhibitions of Australian Art in 1962-1963 attaining considerable individual success. Blackman has since held exhibitions at every major international art centre and has gone on to receive a number of other prizes and distinctions including a major retrospective held in his honour in 1993 and an OBE for his services to Australian art in 1997.
Today the work of Charles Blackman is represented by all Australian State and provincial galleries, many major international collections, university collections and in many private collections both in Australia and overseas.