Q&A with acclaimed artist David Bromley, and curator of BLACKMAN + BROMLEY – Down the Rabbit Hole exhibition.

Blackman + Bromley exhibitions gone over East?
They’ve been received really well. We’ve taken the time to portray Blackman’s work as insightfully as we can. There’s a reasonable uniqueness, from the Blackman originals to the Blackman Studios, which are re-imaginings. With Blackman’s family’s blessing, I worked on homage works. There are a variety of approaches, and there’s an interest in all three. We want to build a bridge to the past, and it appears we’re portraying Blackman in a way that people are enjoying.

How would you describe Blackman’s significance?
It was a very interesting time. Tucker, Percival, Nolan, and Boyd to name a few, were new wave of artists that were bohemian and intelligent, reconfiguring an approach to portray Australia. They were pioneers of poetic painting, part surrealism and part realism. They were pushing towards a new cultural identity. Blackman has this sense of whimsy, playfulness, and it’s otherworldly. The Schoolgirl series took everyday Australia and mixed it with surrealism. It was relevant and powerful. Down the Rabbit Hole was a nursery rhyme that transcended “art speak”. It had a narrative, and he did it with such ease, like a calligrapher.

How would we read Blackman’s work today?
Being art and Blackman literate we actually don’t forget that some people are not familiar with the great Australian artists. This is why we wanted to do this, not only for Blackman aficionados but also for people who haven’t seen his work before. Blackman is very much like Warhol in the sense that when you look at his work you think it’s contemporary when in fact it’s from decades ago. I think my favourite thing about Blackman is he transcends time and was ahead of his time. His imagery has tremendous longevity. It would almost be nice for someone to walk in and say their mate, “You should see this new artist, Blackman, he’s fantastic!” We’re not pushing something historical, and we hope people will come and read them for what they are today.

How did you first become connected with Blackman as an artist and a friend?
He started out as an art hero. I looked at his work like a fairy tale, idealistic and otherworldly. I met his family through different circumstances. I painted Charles for the Archibald prize, where I was a finalist and it hung in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I never thought his family and I would end up continually attempting to honour him.

Describe some of the interpretations your showing in the exhibition?
The core of his work from the 10 years is all on paper, and because of his fragility he’s mainly been using pens and pencils. When you first become associated with his recent work you feel it’s the workings of a frail man, but as you look at it more closely, like the late work of Matisse, Monet, and Picasso, after awhile you become less dismissive because you realise it’s very interesting. They’re predominantly blocks of Blackman iconography reminiscent of his past work, but simply and clearly portrayed. We’ve looked really seriously at his colour palette and dropped colour into some of his pieces and scaled them up. It’s a little like a DJ’s remix of a classic piece of music. We’ve taken his imagery and collaged it. We’ve also turned some of his two-dimensional work into sculptural work.

How has Blackman reacted to the new work?
We’ve shown Charles these pieces, and despite his fragility he has a powerful projection. He’ll kick the paper and exclaim, “I did these!” We have a fantastic interaction with him. We’ve been delighted with his affinity to particular themes. He’s at times living down the rabbit hole himself, in this vague dreamy like state, almost a trance. It’s almost like a lot of the world doesn’t exist bar his art.

Seeing as you’ve worked closely with Blackman’s children, Bertie and Felix, I expect the integrity of the exhibition would come through quite naturally?
We’ve tried to use that as one of the benchmarks. We’ve tried to be as true as possible to Blackman. Bertie and Felix have all the right agendas regarding the engagement to this man’s work. Over and above being their father, they have such a strong affinity to his work. They see it as a tremendous honour, and very much revere their father. We hope we show this reverence.

Friday 31 July – Thursday 20th August 2015
Gullotti Galleries
Claremont Quarter
Level 2, 9 Bayview Terrace, Claremont



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