(Re)discovering Elizabeth Blackadder

August 23, 2011

Painting by Elizabeth Blackadder

I’ve had a soul-filling 10 days in England and Scotland, soaking up culture, studying period instruments and seeing friends and family.

In the National Gallery of Edinburgh, I attended the retrospective of Elizabeth Blackadder’s work. I had not heard of her, but was attracted by the poster of huge watercoloured tulips. (The whole trip was overlit by the spirit of flowers, as another harpsichord songboard painting is coming up).

I don’t respond to much contemporary art, but this was one of those magical times when walking through a gallery, each painting is like an encounter.  These paintings connected me with an inner stillness and joy and an incredible sense of recognition. I still can’t place what exactly it is that moves me so deeply.

Perhaps it is the humble soul of this soon-to-be eighty artist that speaks through her work. As she said in a film I saw, she doesn’t plan her compositions, she begins with objects that are close to her heart and follows the painting where it leads. Maybe it is the sense of trust and openness conveyed by the large spaces and the forms that are realistically but loosely rendered that had such a liberating effect on me.

Still life with flower heads

I made time to also attend a showing of her recent work in a private gallery.  There, I had a real surprise. Leafing through a catalogue of previous shows, I came across an image that was as familiar to me as my own work. There, on a page, was a painting that I’ve had in my ‘Special inspiration’ postcard collection for close to 30 years  (see left)!  It is one of Blackadder’s early works which reminds me more of Klee than her other work, and clearly influenced many of my watercolours of that time.

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