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— Introduction by Charles Nodrum

4. Queensland

 

Introduction

 

Born in 1871 in Carlton, Myer Blashki, eleventh child of Hannah and Phillip Blashki, (he was a noted silversmith), grew up in a traditional Jewish migrant family in a rapidly expanding Melbourne.

After studies at the National Gallery School, and exhibiting at the VAS and the RAS in Sydney, he made an unusual move. Whilst virtually all his contemporaries were gravitating to London and Paris in 1898, he moved to San Francisco, and then to New York.

Judging from the one work we have here of the period, Glacial wastes, Maine, the painterly brushwork that characterised his later work had already evolved by 1900 - the year he married Flora Perry whose merchant father, whilst as uneasy about this union as were the Blashkis in Melbourne, nevertheless settled on his daughter a substantial annual income for life. Her health was never the best and they moved to England in 1910, to be closer to her family who felt an English education for their grandson Phillip to be more appropriate. After studies at Eton, Cambridge and the Slade, Phillip went on to become a noted Social Realist painter in The USA. In 1914, Myer, together with other fellow Australian artists, enrolled in the RAMC, in the same year he changed his surname to the anglicised form of his mother’s maiden name - Evergood - and his first name to Miles, by which he was known thereafter.

With Phillip’s education complete, they returned to New York in 1922 - yet another move that had been, and would continue to be, a repeating motif throughout his life. Flora’s death in 1927 was both a personal and financial blow and in 1931, with his new partner, Polly, he returned to Australia - Brisbane, till 1933, Sydney, till 1935, and Melbourne, till his death in 1939. Here he renewed contact with his artist friends, exhibited his recent works, and participated in the art scene.

The friends included Longstaff, Bunny, Bell and Quinn, in Melbourne. As for his exhibitions, they attracted positive responses: “ ... he is obsessed with the texture of paint and aims at a jewel-like beauty ...” (Brisbane, 1932); “ ... newer and more arresting than that [note] struck by .. the most advanced of the cubists-classicists or the youngest members of the landscapes - decoration school” (Gavin Young, Art in Australia, April 1933); 
“His work is an unremitting search for volume and intensity of colour. In the process he moved a long way from impressionism and not into any new ‘ism’ but into an intensely personal style” (The Argus, May 1939). On that score the critic’s response was shared by others who found him hard to place in context, be it Australian or European. “His work is so strikingly personal that it is difficult to detect its origins” (anonymous Melbourne reviewer, 1935) but there was nothing new here: back in 1903 Pene du Bois had written ‘ [Blashki’s] is a work of individuality and new entirely”. Comparisons have nevertheless been made with Bonnard and Dunoyer de Segonzac, with Sickert, Steer and Grant, and with Daumier and Constable - none of which are wrong - or particularly convincing. Alan McCulloch summed up this problem crisply: “ ... [he] belonged neither to the accepted categories of Australian painting, nor to the modern European schools ...”

So maybe some Americans might help? Gael Hammer records a 1910 New York reviewer seeing a connection to Maurice Prendergast. She also notes the links (both social and artistic) with Henry Ward Ranger and Albert Pinkham Ryder, and whilst tenuous, it’s just possible to see him sharing some of the territory of these disparate artists - the basic tonalism of the former and the idiosyncratic mysticism of the latter - with, maybe, a dash of Ashcan painterliness thrown in. But it’s probably simplest to see him as an individualist - his son saw him as a loner and he himself confessed “ ... I’ve always sort of revelled in obscurity”.

He also kept a keen eye on the art scene. In Melbourne he took part in the Academy of Arts debate (not surprisingly he sided with Bell, not Menzies) and in Sydney he commented on artists he’d seen at exhibitions: he liked Murch but was disappointed by Wakelin; Cossington Smith was “smugly startling”, Frater “wobbly” and Shore the “standout”. If ‘smug’ seems odd about Cossington Smith, and ‘wobbly’ may be fair for Frater whose output always varied in quality, it is not hard to see his affinity with Shore with whom he shared that sense of painterly spontaneity which is also found in the best of Frater.

It is with these in mind that we are accompanying this exhibition with a selected group show of some of his contemporaries (mostly younger) that may help to clarify his position within the Australian context. He certainly responded to the Queensland light, though by the time he arrives in Melbourne he seems to revert to the more sombre palette of his years in England and America. But if history is anything to go from, the second exhibition will confirm, rather than diminish, his resolute individualism. 

CN


Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.