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David Blackburn: Stones in Light & Trees in Light

The Artist

Biography from the 'Sublime landscape': David Blackburn was born in Hudderfield, West Yorkshire in 1939. He studied at the local art school and four years later won a scholarship to study textile design at the Royal College of Art in London. He was greatly influenced by the Austrian artist and scholar, Gerhard Frankl who helped him to choose the somewhat unfashionable medium of pastel.

From the Royal College, Blackburn went to Australia to teach. He stayed for three years, mainly in Melbourne but travelled to the centre of Australia where he was greatly influenced by the intense Australian light and dramatic colours of the land itself. He began to produce large-scale works including 'the Creation and the Metamorphoses.' Although Blackburn returned home (due to his father's illness) he made further trips to Australia, notably in 1971 and 1973 where he continued to draw and be inspired for further works.

Whilst at the Royal Collage of Art, Blackburn was the contemporary of David Hockney and Ron Kitaj. Pop art and abstract expressionism were both dominant trends of the time and these along with Gerhard Frankl  deeply influenced David's work. Blackburn particularly learned about colour through his association with Frankl and his interest in the psychology of colour (which in itself was derived from Goethe's The Theory of Colour). Frankl was fascinated by complementary colours and their power over each other and the viewer.

Blackburn recalls the effect of Gerhard Frankl on his work, 'I'd never seen pastel used to produce such intensity and depth of colour. It had an extraordinary looseness and freedom, which suggested huge spaces, shimmering light and a feeling of cold. I found it a revelation. He became almost a father figure to me....'

In the 1960s, Blackburn's work came to the attention of Sir Kenneth Clark, whose European humanism and his belief in the sanctity of nature was in contrast to the prevailing interest in popular culture. Soon after their first meeting, Clark bought  three of Blackburn's drawings from his degree show. His support and friendship were important factors in Blackburn's development as an artist and his interest in Australia.

Australia, where landscape was the dominant tradition, has exerted a great influence on Blackburn's oeuvre. In 1961, two years before his first visit, he saw the New Australian Paining exhibition at  the Whitechapel Art Gallery for which Kenneth Clark wrote an introduction. 'In Australian landscape painting, as in all great landscape painting, the scenery is not painted for its own sake but as a background of a a legend and a reflection of human values.  Landscape artists like Arthur Boyd and Fred Williams both produced work that changed the way Australians viewed the landscape, and they did so when the perceptiual and figurative art were deemed less relevant than international movements. Black was particularly influenced by Williams who reduced the outback to glorious compioitions of dots and patterning. He was probably the first white Australian to see the landscape in the whollly original, non-European way.  The light and the sense of space in Australia provided a complete contrast in visual terms to England.  He recalls the inense isolation experienced in the outback and the utter blackness at night. Uluru, he describes as the most memorable sight of his life.

The Outback had been a revelation  and suddenly the drawings became full of glowing reds and blazing oranges, witht he sky taking up half  the picture plane. As the feeling of this huge space, along with a strange dreamlike quality , entered my work the European concept of foreground, middle distance and background came to seem irrelevant. I started thinking of certain Surrealists- Yves Tanguy in particular.

Blackburn has had a number of significant retrospective exhibitions and residencies including at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne. His experience both in Australia and the United State have  fundamentally defined his works.

David Blackburn Trees in Light

The Work of Art

Trees in Light demonstrates the aspects for which David Blackburn is known for. The work is an abstract expressionist form created using  pastels. The work is superbly composed with  blocks of colour contrasted against black forms.  The drawing was created  in 1996 when David was a  visiting artist at the Humanities Centre, Australian National University.


Janet McKenzie, Studio International,