Thetis Blacker

Visionary batik painter


Ann Thetis Blacker, painter and singer: born Holmbury St Mary, Surrey 13 December 1927; died Bramley, Surrey 18 December 2006.

The artist Thetis Blacker created richly coloured pictures notable for their symbolic and visionary qualities. She worked in the uncommon dyed-fabric technique batik, becoming one of its most eminent practitioners.

Blacker's pictures were commissioned for and exhibited in cathedrals in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. In England, her most conspicuous work is seen in sets of paintings on themes such as the Creation, displayed from time to time in Winchester, Windsor and Durham.

She was born in 1927 in Holmbury St Mary, Surrey, daughter of the psychiatrist Carlos Paton Blacker. Thetis's grandfather Carlos Blacker was a close friend of Oscar Wilde.

Thetis Blacker originally planned a singing career. She studied in London with the lieder-singer Elena Gerhardt, appeared in the chorus at Glyndebourne in the 1950s and sang the role of Mother Goose in Stravinsky's Rake's Progress. (As a painter, she was to have an exhibition of work at Glyndebourne during the summer of 2005.)

Despite this promising start, Blacker felt that her true destiny lay in visual art. She received lessons from Brenda Moore, wife of the artist Leonard Campbell Taylor, and studied at Chelsea School of Art. In 1970, as a Churchill Fellow, she visited India, Iran, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, where she worked at the Batik Research Institute of Yogyakarta. Visits to Peru and later Bali helped to form Blacker's style.

In 1973 her book A Pilgrimage of Dreams appeared. Blacker was a close friend of the poet Kathleen Raine and became a fellow of the Temenos Academy, dedicated to "Education in the Light of the Spirit" and founded by Raine and others in 1990.

Over the years Blacker produced memorable series based on mythical themes. A phoenix rising from the ashes was a favourite subject, a typically fiery example being featured on her altar frontal in St George's Chapel, Windsor (1997), where a major exhibition of her work was held in 2000. Other commissions included work for St Albans Abbey, Grey College, Durham, and - her last major work, commissioned by Blacker's dealer Henry Dyson - banners of St Cuthbert and St Oswald for Durham Cathedral (2001).

"She was a Blakeian," says Dyson:

Thetis believed in the divine presence in all things, that creative art has a life and soul of its own, with inspiration, although part of human experience, being something that comes from a source other than the human.

David Buckman

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