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The Family

by Charles Blackman

Meredith McKinney, subject of Charles Blackman's 'The Family', recounts memories from her childhood and the creation of the portrait.

Interview with Meredith McKinney
Video: 2 minutes

The National Portrait Gallery would like to thank Meredith McKinney for her kind assistance with this project. All paintings by Charles Blackman.

Meredith McKinney: Charles Blackman was staying with us in the mid 50’s, and as far as I can gauge the portrait called The Family would have come out of that particular time. My parents met in Brisbane just after the war, and in the beginning it was a very clandestine relationship because he was still married. But it was such a powerful relationship that in the end she simply decided to cut her losses and move in with him, and have a child, and take the consequences socially. And in those days they were pretty strong consequences.

My sense of childhood, which of course is hindsight, and everybody paints their childhood with hindsight, but my sense of it is just of a kind of a circle, a perfect circle.

Really, for Charles my father was probably … well, to say “father figure” is a very simplistic thing, but the talks that he and my father had were things that sort of drew Charles into new and exciting directions. The memories, I suppose, of that time are particularly intense of his working as an artist. I was very intrigued by his being an artist at that stage, because I hadn’t even gone to school, and the thing I most wanted to do was draw, as one does before one can write.

So I remember the portrait that he did of me very well, taking me into a room and setting me up at one end of the room and saying, “We’re both going to sit and draw for the day.” And so I drew at one end, and he drew at the other end, and after a while I went over to see what he was drawing, and was astonished and appalled to discover that it was me.