Bertie Blackman seems to do it all: music, writing, art and fashion, there’s seemingly nothing she’s not involved in. But like a lot of creative types, her curiosity always pushes her to explore more.
Blackman’s latest opus, Pope Innocent X, takes its name from a painting of a painting of a Pope, and each song on the album comes with an ink and paper sketch drawn by Blackman herself (which you can check out in the video in the banner).
Initially, the plan was to collaborate with different visual artists on different songs, as well as to make an art book and do some charity auctions.
However, she was persuaded by her manager, Mark Richardson, and producer Francois Tetaz to do otherwise. “Both ended up sitting me down and saying: you should do the drawings. We could get all these people on board, but you have the talent to do it,” she laughs.
“I guess I needed a bit of a boot up the bum,” before going on to explain, “I guess it’s the weight of the family name. It’s hard when you come from a family with a famous artistic father.”
Blackman’s dad being celebrated Australian painter Charles Blackman, “when people find out who you are,” she continues, “you’re kind of automatically judged.”
Additionally, she says she has been waiting, “for a moment where it kind of came naturally and felt right to do, rather than any other reason. It’s got to come to your head.”
However, she’s now taken the leap into the visual art realm, “I guess I wanted to do my father proud.” It’s likely he is: the artwork is more than simply a collection of sketches, with each illustration tailored specifically to its corresponding song.
It’s also the first time she’s drawn a collection of work with only ink and paper, “I worked really hard at getting the imagery out and a person to get a feeling about the look, and listen to the song too,” says Blackman. ”Like a story book.”
The title of the album is inspired by Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (Diego Velázquez painted Portrait of Innocent X in 1650), a 1953 painting by Francis Bacon, who was a contemporary of Blackman’s father.
In fact, they actually lived in the same building in London during the 60s. Bacon is now of Bertie’s favourite painters, and while the singer-songwriter isn’t particularly spiritual, she notes that “art was my religion.”
That, and the name just felt right. “I didn’t want it to be a whimsical title. It felt like it needed to be a being of some sort, but also have some sort of curiosity to it and not give everything away,” she explains. “Like a character, I guess.”
Her favourite track on her forthcoming album is ‘Shadow Chasers’, which “strikes a chord” in her when she hears it. She says that while many of the songs on the new album are based on abstract, imaginative stories (‘Boy’ tells the tale of a creature made up of a town, while ‘Maps’ is about two people who are born with maps as heads), ’Shadow Chasers’ is very raw and revealing.
“I guess it’s a very human moment for me on the album,” says Blackman, “not like all the other wonderful fickle things I’ve made up in my head.”
Pope Innocent X has been a long time coming. A bout of tonsillitis back in July prevented Blackman from previewing the album to the public, but that’s no longer the case.
To be released the same night she’s in Queensland supporting The Rubens on their national tour, for who she has only great things to say about.
Not headlining has given her “less things to worry about,” she says. As to the night of the album launch, “I’m really excited to push the ship out on the night of the show, I’ve never really gotten to do that,” before admitting she’ll be a bit emotional. “Shed a few tears, maybe.”
After this tour comes to an end, the whole world is ahead of Blackman. Apart from one intensive trek through the UK off the success of her last album – 2009’s ARIA-winning Secrets and Lies – she hasn’t done much touring overseas. Naturally, she is excited to get back onto the road and do more gigs, saying she gets “itchy feet very quickly.”
“I’m just really excited to get out and see the world again, and get out from being stuck in my crazy, crazy mind. It’ll be healthy not being shut up in my apartment writing strange songs…” she muses.
As to where she’ll go? Definitely not a city, but maybe “a strange land somewhere.” Eastern Europe is the first thing to spring to her mind, before she takes a different tack.
“Maybe Alaska or something,” she decides, “where the weather is really weird. I’m just fascinated with those countries in the world that are so close to the North or South Pole, where the days are so different and it’s just night all the time. I think that would be really interesting.”
Does that mean we can expect some Alaskan-flavoured tunes for her next album? Who knows, but chances are we’ll find out where Blackman is going through one of her social networking accounts – her Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are all run by her.
It’s impressive, considering she’s not a natural. “I had to get trained, because I just didn’t understand how it worked,” she admits, “It doesn’t come naturally to me… because I just don’t think people were going to find anything I see or hear about interesting.”
Luckily, her friends and professionals once again convinced her otherwise, because it turns out that Twitter is “a really interesting medium for a voice;” and Blackman’s is a voice you want to hear.
Or, in the performer’s own creative words: “I know where you’re hiding and I’m coming to get you.”
Pope Innocent X is out Friday 12th October through. Bertie Blackman is currently supporting The Rubens on their massive national tour. Full dates and details here. Be sure to check out Bertie going through her new album and artwork, track-by-track in the banner.Write a Letter to the Editor