As Blackwood recounts in an interview with Gary Michael Dault in the book, the schooners could catch fire far from shore, and icebound survivors had few choices. At the mercy of the elements, depending on the seas for their livelihood, outport Newfoundlanders were a breed of their own. Distance, isolation, and a life in the scale of life were just part of the way it was.

Arriving from Wesleyville on Bonavista Bay to study at Ontario College of Art in the late 1950s, David Blackwood studied printmaking. Only 20 years old, his work purchased by the National Gallery on recommendation of William Lieberman, Curator of Prints and Drawings at New York’s MOMA.

This “success” caused “untold problems” for the fledgling arts student. Usually they did not even sign their prints at this career stage! In Black Ice, we see a progression from the documentary Blackwood to Blackwood the narrative imagist. His mature works are as spiritual as art can be, a reification of life in an awesome environment. Blackwood’s step by step pushing of the boundaries of scale, tone, depth, line and burin work are always focussed on making real life history the story.
We see trace of Gustave Dore in these images of bone chilling ice, ships, seals, and whales….

The scenes of Mummers, of old women parting the curtains in the kitchen, or crowds at a dock, have a warmth, a human sense, part of “outport” life. Hauling Job Sturge’s House (1979) reveals the settlement drama of hauling a house, in this case across the ice instead of through the forest.

The Sealing Disaster of 1914, a tragedy captured here, typified the risks of a sealing, whaling, and fishing culture in Newfoundland. Great Lost Party Adrift has ant-like figures of survivors on an iceberg left to the fate of the elements after their boat sunk. And whaling images are unforgettable tributes to the interrelation of species in the fight for survival. Spirit Departing – Once Told Tale, (1968) has a ghostly white spirit shape floating upwards out of a very dead body is one of the best, a hopeful icon of the cosmic connection between life and afterlife.

Black Ice captures our public imagination for a reason. Blackwood’s etchings visualize and reify life from another place and another time. Now part of our collective memory, the past seen here is deeper than myth, much closer to the everyday imagined fears and truths of outport people. Blackwood’s world captures this drama in an exceptional way. And he tells a great story.

John K. Grande

Black Ice
David Blackwood; Prints of Newfoundland
Goose Lane Editions/AGO 2015, 208 pages
illus. $45.00
ISBN 9780864928542
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