Turning the pages of Charles Blackman’s sketchbook

Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928 / Buderim Mt Sketchbook: Civilisation versus Eden 1984 / Full (faux) black leather sketchbook with gilt borders and red endpapers / 1 v.; ill. (some col.) / Gift of the Josephine Ulrich and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2013. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Collection: QAGOMA Research Library / © Charles Raymond Blackman 1984. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2015

Sketchbooks have long been used by artists to jot down ideas, contemplate on particular moments and note creative reflections. They are a personal record of inspirational imagery that may later be referred to when developing ideas and composition for other works.

Charles Blackman’s Buderim Mt Sketchbook: Civilization versus Eden, dated 1984, affords us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the artist’s musings and some of the magic found in his rainforest series.


Blackman created this sketchbook while he was living in Mt Buderim in the 1980s. Introduced to the area by his good friend James Birrell, an architect who lived near the Maroochy River, the artist moved to Buderim to escape the Sydney winters. Behind his home, he discovered a small waterfall; and so began his fascination with them, and with the rainforest.

Described as a romantic, Blackman marries the gothic architecture of French cathedrals with the grandeur of the rainforest, creating ‘living museums’ in his sketches and watercolours. A highlight of the sketchbook is ‘The engulfed Cathedral’ (1984), which references Claude Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie of 1910. It is a beautiful, lyrical ink drawing of a cathedral washed in a sea of blues.



Several of the drawings in this sketchbook were reproduced in the book The Rainforest (Macmillan, 1988) to accompany texts by Blackman and poet Al Alvarez. The sketchbook also features poems by the artist, and a schematic flowchart linking words with the natural world.

Buderim Mt Sketchbook: Civilization versus Eden which is held in the QAGOMA Research Library collection is currently on display in the Gallery’s exhibition ‘Lure  of the Sun: Charles Blackman in Queensland’, where you can turn the pages of a digitised copy via touchscreen and muse on this intimate and beautiful work by Charles Blackman.


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A selection of items sent by Robert MacPherson to Peter Tyndall / Collection: QAGOMA Research Library / © The artists

The Peter Tyndall and Robert MacPherson Correspondence Archive 1979–2014 in the QAGOMA Research Library is the result of 35 years of exchange between these celebrated Australian artists. They began corresponding after their first meeting at Ray Hughes Gallery in Brisbane in 1979 when the artworks for Tyndall’s exhibition at the gallery were stuck in transit due to a national trucking protest. In lieu of the artworks, as he waited for the strike to end, Tyndall put a few other things he had to hand in the gallery space.   He recalls:

I had just made my first flight, so one of these things was my aviator’s leather helmet to which I had added a winged emblem of my standard ideogram of dependent arising. Within an hour, Bob had gone home and returned with a gift made directly in response. From his own collection of things, he located a masonic box with a similar winged rectangle motif that decorated the outside. Inside, attached to the lid, he placed a string of feathers. Back at the gallery, he presented this to me saying it was to be opened and viewed at eye level: from a winged box, feathers on strings arise … Since then, 35 years ago, this exchange has continued, almost daily.

Donated by Tyndall to the Gallery’s Research Library at the end of 2014, the archive consists of nearly 13 000 items of correspondence from MacPherson. This archive of ‘mail art’ or ‘correspondence art’  comprises envelopes containing newspaper and magazine pages related to frogs, axes or other items of MacPherson’s thematic interest, or the artists’ shared interests and  annotated by MacPherson with text calligraphy. The archive also includes postcards, artists’ books and objects, as well as letters from MacPherson and Robert Pene, his ten-year-old schoolboy persona.

Item showing ‘Yeo Swee Hong’ frog logo sent by Robert MacPherson to Peter Tyndall /Collection: QAGOMA Research Library / Photograph: Mark Sherwood / © The artists

MacPherson and Tyndall have encyclopaedic knowledge of their many interests and both can be described as obsessively-creative, seeing art everywhere and in everything. Many of the musings  found in the archive have been used to rehearse, tease out ideas, and inform their respective art practices. The connection between words, images and meaning is an important key to unlocking the dialogue between the two artists.  MacPherson’s fondness for list making, punning and collecting is clearly evident throughout the collection. 

Gardening gloves sent by Robert MacPherson to Peter Tyndall /Collection: QAGOMA Research Library / Photograph: Mark Sherwood / © The artists

Selected items from the archive are currently on display in the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) Foyer and in the Research Library on Level 3, GOMA, until 18 October as part of the ‘Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach’ exhibition.  Read more about Robert MacPherson’s interests and artworks in the accompanying publication.

The Peter Tyndall and Robert MacPherson Correspondence Archive is available in the QAGOMA Research Library by appointment


Rare book or time machine?

Louis Aragon, Martin Fabiani (ed.) Henri Matisse Dessins: Thèmes et Variations. Martin Fabiani, Paris, 1943.From the James C Sourris, AM, Collection of Rare Books, purchased with funds from James C Sourris, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2011, and held in the Queensland Art Gallery Research Library.

It’s not unusual for a book to show the expanse of an artist’s work but Henri Matisse: Dessins. Themes et Variations, published in 1943 and limited to 950 copies offers something more intimate.

It is a portfolio of drawings consisting of 158 plates produced in lithography and presented on single loose leaf pages. Comprising 17 themes and variations of each subject, the drawings executed over a short period of two years act as a record to the artist’s commitment to draw every day and a life devoted to line.

The portfolio is currently on display in ‘Matisse: Drawing Life‘ until 4 March 2012