A Brush with Blackman

November 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #71, November 2009.

Following the release of third album Secrets and Lies earlier this year, Australian songstress Bertie Blackman is trading the stage for the gallery for the first time to auction her artworks for charity, writes Dan Rule.

Bertie Blackman isn’t one to ride on others’ coattails. The 26-year-old songwriter is very much her own person. “I’ve never ever wanted to use my name to get anywhere,” she states resolutely, pauses for moment. “I’ve been very sort of quiet as far as my family background, and that’s a deliberate thing.”

For some, the idea of having a famous parent might seem a blessing. For those who live it, it can often feel more like a curse. Blackman – daughter of perhaps Australia’s most renowned living artist, Charles Blackman – may not use such terms, but the Sydney-raised, Melbourne-based songwriter is overtly conscious of the spectre her father’s career casts.

“I’ve been really sensitive about who my father is, you know,” she offers. “I’m a real, firm believer in making your own way.”

Having released her electronic and atmosphere-laden third album Secrets and Lies in May to rapturous acclaim – and received an ARIA nomination for Best Independent Release for her troubles – it would be fair to pose that Blackman is doing just that. In a career that kicked off in 2003 and has resulted in EP Blue Sky Pueblo (2003) and celebrated albums Headway (2004) and Black (2006), the songstress has risen to become one of Australian’s most promising and diverse young songwriters and performers.

But it’s a new project that has Blackman feeling butterflies. On November 19, she will be exhibiting her own artwork for the first time at Melbourne’s Mossgreen Gallery. The works, six black and white illustrations that Blackman originally conceived as stage props, will be auctioned on the night to raise funds for music charity Support Act, which offers assistance to Australian musicians suffering hardship or illness.

Blackman will also perform a short acoustic set at the event, but it’s not that she’s worried about. “Suddenly I’ve been taking the drawings really seriously,” she says, letting loose a nervous laugh. “Rather than being just these little, quirky stage props, they’ve turned into something that’s going to be on someone’s wall.”

“Pressure is definitely the right word for it,” she says. “I’ve pretty much been freaking out ever since we decided to do it.”

It’s little surprise that visual art surfaced in Blackman’s musical work. As a child, she was encouraged to become an artist. “My father always kind of groomed me towards that, but I’ve always naturally been a little bit rebellious,” she laughs.

“I think that’s why we butted heads a little bit on that. There was just this emotional moment we had when I was a young teenager and he was like, ‘You’re going to be an artist’ and I was like, ‘No, I’m going to be a musician!’” she laughs again. “I remember the look in his eyes was just like, ‘Oh dear, what have we done?’”

Nonetheless, making art has played a prominent role in her life. “I’ve always drawn and my dad taught me how to draw, so it’s something that I’ve always done,” she says. “It has sort of naturally made its way into what I’m doing musically.”

Indeed, for Blackman, art and music come from very similar places. She understands both the quixotic songs that comprise Secrets and Lies and the ‘Nanimals’ – “They’re ‘Nanimals’ because they’re not quite normal animals,” she explains – that feature in her economical, black ink drawings as a way of accessing and expressing her innermost feelings in a less tangible way.

“I really got into exploring my imagination and the innocence of hearing or singing or just coming up with something in the moment, like creating these little worlds that exist under the ground or turning people you meet into kind of characters or ‘Nanimals’, or essentially just compartmentalising parts of myself different characters and sounds,” she explains.

“When it comes down to it, all this stuff is about family and friends and people that I’ve been with – all these parts of my life,” she continues. “The creative process is a really sensorial, kind of guttural and really immediate for me. It’s the magic of making in impact within that one moment – within that kind of spark – because it’s never going to feel the same way again for you or anyone else.”

“It’s been really rewarding to do that in a visual context.”

But Blackman’s growing fan base need not worry. While art will always be a form of expression, it’s music that really pushes her buttons. “I’ve always felt things creatively in a musical sense more so than in a visual way,” she says.

“It’s a real challenge to sit down try and make interesting art, but I think music is the most natural way for me to feel like I’m expressing myself honestly,” she pauses

“I love just freeze-framing moments in time and turning those moments into songs.”

Bertie Blackman’s art show launches November 19 at Mossgreen Gallery
Secrets and Lies is out via Forum5/MGM
Visit: bertieblackman.com
Visit: mossgreen.com.au

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