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Lead relief, n.d.

In the 1960s Jim Ede developed a taste for artists interested in balance of form and chromatic restraint, focussing in particular on the use of black and white. Among them were lesser known figures like Italo Valenti and John Blackburn. The latter’s relative obscurity at the time allowed Ede to buy more than forty works.

A close inspection of Blackburn’s work at Kettle’s Yard shows strengths that could not necessarily be found in single examples. There is the simple impact of black and white and the sudden intervention of other colours. There is also the variety and energy of the application of the paint: the use of impasto and thin veils, the dry crusty surfaces set against glutinous gloss. This is enhanced by the use of line (drawn with brush, pencil, biro or crayon), running over or cutting into the paint surface already established. This versatility in the use of materials is present in the majority of the works and shows Blackburn’s experimental process.

The linear interruptions in the works may have attracted Ede because of their echoes of Ben Nicholson’s prints and drawings of the same period. In this respect it is curious that the only Blackburn now on permanent display, Lead Relief, has one of the least modulated surfaces.

[JB 2]


Lead and oil on cotton (mounted on wood)

200 x 210 mm

About the artist

Born in Luton, Blackburn studied at Thanet and Maidenhead Art Schools. After a period of National Service he spent seven years in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands where he developed his trademark idiom of indigo blue and black forms set against a white background. Blackburn was particularly interested in Tachism, Abstract Expressionism and the work of Francis Bacon. He studied these ideas in detail on his return to England in 1962. Since then he has divided his time between Kent, London and Cambridge and continues to paint today. Ede acquired over twenty of his paintings in the early 1960s, having first seen his work at the Woodstock Gallery in London. Extensive information on the artist is available at