MAN IN DARK STREET, c.1952- 53

Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 April 2009

Charles Blackman

born 1928
MAN IN DARK STREET, c.1952- 53

oil on composition board

91.5 x 91.0 cm

signed lower right: BLACKMAN

$50,000 - 70,000

Private collection, Melbourne
The Hicks Family Collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

A striking feature of Charles Blackman's early works is his use of physical contortions to express the inner concerns of his figures, and their responses to the world around them. The best known, if not notorious example of this is his marvellous drawing, The Swimmer, 1952, which became a success de scandale when shown in his 1953 exhibition at the Peter Bray Gallery in Melbourne. The angularity and awkwardness of the figure suggests the struggle of the swimmer in the water, a metaphor of ungainly youth coming to terms with life. The same applies to Man in Dark Street, which originally had one of Blackman's 'Schoolgirl' paintings on the verso. The main difference between the two lies in the emphasis on horizontals or verticals. In The Swimmer the horizontality of the flat sea and baths provides the compositional contrast to the flailing of arms and legs - the figure both in and out of his environment. In Man in Dark Street the upright figure, buildings and chimney share a verticality, the arms of the central figure now wrapped around the head or held close to the body - both agonising and protective. The hand with its articulated fingers to the head and the wide-eyed stare speak of those manacles of the mind - such manifestations as 'the black dog' and other horrors, which stalk the id. The look is one of obsessive fixation within a frozen stillness, shadows dark, the framework of forms angular in the formal and colour interplay between figure and architecture, light and dark. The threat seems to be as much within as without.

Blackman is a master of images of isolation as seen in his 'Schoolgirl' series, which had their première in his 1953 solo show. Man in Dark Street is a major and closely related early example. What Thomas Shapcott wrote about his 'Schoolgirl' pictures - 'which still have a disturbing power to haunt and involve us in their emotionally vulnerable images of childhood as a grotesque and defenceless world' - applies equally to Man in Dark Street.'1 Its sense of isolation is palpable. There is also Blackman's extraordinary gift of being able to enter into the mind and moods of childhood, and then paint what they think and feel through the individuality and sensitivity of his imagery. This awareness of the fears and delights of childhood led to the 'Alice' series and all its wonders.

1. Shapcott, T., Focus on Charles Blackman, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1967, p. 18