Australian artist Charles Blackman has died, aged 90

Painter Charles Blackman. Photo Patrick Riviere/Getty

Charles Blackman, the last surviving artist of a mid-20th Century art movement known as the Antipodeans, has died in Sydney.

Blackman, who turned 90 last week, had Korsakoff’s syndrome, a form of dementia caused by alcoholism, and required 24-hour care, spending the last few months of his life in an aged care facility, after selling his personal art collection in recent years to pay for his care.

Best known for his Alice in Wonderland and Schoolgirl series, Sydney-born Blackman rejected the abstract expressionism of American greats such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, siding instead with a group of Melbourne artists such as Arthur and David Boyd, John Brack, John Perceval, Clifton Pugh and Robert Dickerson, who together signed the Antipodean Manifesto – a protest against abstract art.

His reputation was established with the haunting Schoolgirls series, painted between 1952 and 1955, and inspired by the 1920s murder of a Melbourne schoolgirl. He’d moved to Melbourne from Brisbane where he met his first wife, author Barbara Patterson, in 1951. The works had a brooding malevolence, with lone girls, often head down and faces unseen, walking through desolate urban landscapes.

The following year, 1956, he began working on the Alice In Wonderland series, inspired by an audiobook of Lewis Carroll’s story, given to him by his wife.

He was married to Barbara Blackman for 27 years before his chronic drinking led to their divorce. The artist married three times and had six children: Auguste, Christabel, Barnaby, Beatrice, Felix and Axiom, who are artists and musicians.

Blackman was appointed an OBE for services to Australian art in 1977. He has one of the Art Series boutique hotels in Melbourne named in his honour.

The Shadow by Charles Blackman, silkscreen. Image courtesy of the artist.

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