Charles BLACKMAN, The cigarette shop (Running home) Enlarge 1 /1


Harbord, New South Wales, Australia born 1928

  • England 1961–66
  • France 1970–71

The cigarette shop (Running home) [The Cigarette Shop] 1954 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, enamel on composition board

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 91.0 h x 121.0 w cm framed (overall) 980 h x 1286 w x 36 d mm
Acknowledgement: Founding Donor Fund 1985
Accession No: NGA 85.631

The year 1954 was critical for Charles Blackman. Having given up his job as an illustrator for the Sydney Sun, he had recently moved to Melbourne where he found the genesis for an iconography that would define him as an artist—school children and playgrounds, cats on roofs, the flower shop and clock towers.

Walking though the suburbs from his studio home in Hawthorn to the inner city with his wife Barbara, he discovered a rich seam of inspiration for a series of urban landscapes, culminating in an exhibition based on advertising hoardings and posters at Mirka Mora’s newly established gallery in November 1954. The cigarette shop was a key work from that exhibition. One of the largest from the show, the painting depicts the local tobacco shop so heavily emblazoned with advertisements that the building’s architecture is obscured. Each advertisement is a distinct Blackman painting in its own right.

From necessity, Blackman had begun to use Dulux house paint and this medium suited his depiction of the crisp graphic quality of the hoardings so commonly found at train stations and high street shops. Yet despite the dominance of the primary palette and the graphic imagery, it is the urgency of the young girl running past the shop, alone in the suburban world as night encroaches, that gives this work a troubling sense of disquiet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014

The theme of Charles Blackman’s art is the feminine psyche, which he explored through childhood memories (of his mother and sisters) and through his reading of the literature of adolescent fantasy. In The cigarette shop, which is almost a snapshot of the 1950s, the thrill comes from the conjunction of reality and dream. The blatant advertisements, featuring figures from fashionable society, contrast with the mystery of the fleeing child in the lower right. Influence on Blackman’s hoarding paintings came from the pre-Pop reality of his immediate suburban environment.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002