Charles Blackman’s ‘The Blue Alice’

Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928 / The Blue Alice 1956-57 / Tempera, oil and household enamel on composition board / Purchased 2000. The Queensland Government’s special Centenary Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Charles Raymond Blackman 1956-57. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2016

In 1956, Barbara Blackman brought home a talking book machine and one of the first books the Blackmans ‘read’ was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This was Blackman’s first encounter with the story and, importantly, it lacked any illustrations to impose on his imagination.

Barbara came to stand for Alice herself. Her struggle with her progressive blindness parallels Alice’s efforts to conquer the mysterious circumstances in which she found herself. Queensland poet and friend, Judith Wright later articulated how central Barbara – and Alice – was to Blackman’s success:

. . . she is Alice; he painted her in this role ten years ago. She is lucky to be known so well by a great painter; but he is lucky, too, to have found her waiting for him at all the important crossroads in his own world, and to have recognised her for the touchstone that she is.

Through his second wife Genevieve de Couvreur’s love of contemporary dance, Alice provided new inspiration for Blackman in Buderim in 1984, with set designs created for the Alice in Wonderland ballet, performed later that year in Perth.


Poem written and read by Auguste Blackman (the eldest son of Charles Blackman) on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition, ‘Lure of the sun: Charles Blackman in Queensland’ on 7 November 2015


Lure of the Sun

Whispering shadowed dawn arise

See the world through Alice eyes

Kettle sings to brush in hand

Descending dappled Wonderland

Beneath the faithful Queensland house

Blue Alice, rabbit and dormouse

Gilded by a Gertrude flower

Amidst the splendid perfumed hour

Gerbera Roses Daisy Lily

Earthen breezeway Indooroopilly

Expounding wild magenta dream

Away to Barjai Tamborine

Pandanus palms Maroochydore

Blackman paints our fatal shore

A tea pot tips inspiring brew

Alice grows a foot or two

‘Drink Me’ now and you can be

A golden girl kissed by the sea

Through The Looking Glass we leap

Falling down in jumbled heap

And here at last we’re joined as one

Spellbound by a Lure of Sun


Accompanying the exhibition ‘Lure of the sun: Charles Blackman in Queensland’ is a richly illustrated publication which explores Blackman’s years in Queensland, focusing on the artist’s creative friendships and reveals the findings of recent research into Blackman’s materials and techniques. On display at the Queensland Art Gallery until 31 January 2016

Post inspired by a blog comment from Mary Long who requested a copy of the poem.