Blackman, born 12 August 1928 in Sydney, left school at 13 and worked as an illustrator with the Sydney Sun newspaper while attending night classes at East Sydney Technical College (1943–46) though was principally self-taught. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate. He came to notice following his move to Melbourne in the mid-1940s, where he became friends with Joy Hester, John Perceval and Laurence Hope as well as gaining the support of critic and art patron John Reed. His work met critical acclaim through his early Schoolgirl and Alice series, the latter Blackman's conception of Lewis Carroll's most famous character. For some time while painting the Alice series, Blackman worked as a cook at a café run by art dealer, George Mora and his wife, fellow artist Mirka Mora.
In 1959 he was a signatory to the Antipodean Manifesto, a statement protesting the dominance of abstract expressionism. The manifesto's adherents have been dubbed the Antipodeans Group. His work is associated with dreamlike images tinged with mystery and foreboding. In 1960 he lived in London after winning the Helena Rubenstein Scholarship, settling in Sydney upon his return six years later. In 1970 he moved to Paris, when awarded the atelier studio in the Cité des Artes. He lived there for a year at the same time as John Coburn, and subsequently returned often, as Paris was an eternal source of inspiration.
His strong friendships with fellow artists led to field trips, sessions with models, cultural interchanges with poets, writers, musicians and worked with the ballet, doing set designs, i.e. Daisy Bates. After 27 years of marriage, Barbara Patterson Blackman and Charles Blackman divorced in 1978, largely because of his alcoholism. He married the young artist Genevieve de Couvreur, a 19-year-old friend of his children. She divorced him and in 1989 he married a third wife, Victoria Bower, whom he also later divorced. He has six children, Auguste, Christabel, Barnaby, Beatrice, Felix and Axiom, most them artists and musicians in their own right.
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