David Blackwood, iconic Newfoundland artist, dies at 80

David Blackwood was one of Newfoundland’s finest artists and a legendary printmaker. Here he is in his studio in Port Hope, Ontario, where he has worked since graduating from the Ontario College of Art and Design. ((John Rieti/CBC))

World-renowned artist, teacher and Newfoundlander David Blackwood has passed away.

Blackwood died Saturday at his home in Port Hope, Ont., surrounded by his family after a long illness.

His work presented working life in the small port of Newfoundland as something vast and dark, with mysterious depths beneath every surface.

Blackwood’s death comes barely a month after the loss of another equally legendary Newfoundland and Labrador artist, Christopher Pratt.

Etching and aquatint on wove paper 67.2 x 82.8 cm. Gift of David and Anita Blackwood, Port Hope, Ontario. (David Blackwood/Art Gallery of Ontario)

A mythology for Newfoundland

Born in 1941 in Wesleyville, Blackwood was raised among seafaring people who would continue to inspire his work throughout his life.

An artistic prodigy from an early age, Blackwood received a Centennial Scholarship from the Government of Newfoundland to train at the Ontario College of Art. At 23, his work was exhibited at the National Gallery.

Blackwood is perhaps best known for his blue-black etchings and prints, which often depict scenes of harbor life, mummies, icebergs, whales and men at sea, all formed in dark shadows contrast and brilliant white light.

“David Blackwood has created a mythology for Newfoundland,” explains Emma Butler, gallery owner and friend of the Blackwoods.

The Emma Butler gallery opened in 1987 with the work of David Blackwood.

“People know these incredible stories of shipwrecks and seal-related disasters, stories of mumbling and pictures of split tables and flakes and all those things.”

“People know Newfoundland from the images of David Blackwood,” she said.

Etching and aquatint on wove paper 62 x 92.3 cm. Gift of David and Anita Blackwood, Port Hope, Ontario. (David Blackwood/Art Gallery of Ontario)

Some of his most recognizable works are the series of prints made in the 1960s and 1970s, The Lost Party, detailing the Newfoundland seal hunt disaster of 1914 with harrowing scenes of seal hunters in boats , a dark and rich world around them.

With over 50 etchings in the series, it remains one of the most important thematic series of prints in Canadian history.

Blackwood’s work has been exhibited worldwide, with over 90 solo exhibitions and two major retrospective exhibitions.

His work is featured in nearly every major gallery and public collection in Canada, from the provincial art gallery The Rooms to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, and even in Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Collection at the Chateau de Windsor.

In 2000, the Art Gallery of Ontario created the Blackwood Research Center around an important collection of his works.

It was the subject of a 1976 National Film Board documentary black wood, which ranks the artist’s etchings alongside those of Rembrandt, Goya and Dürer. The film was nominated for an Oscar.

Blackwood was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1993 and the Order of Ontario in 2003.

Etching and aquatint on wove paper 43.9 x 88 cm. Gift of David and Anita Blackwood, Port Hope, Ontario. (David Blackwood/Art Gallery of Ontario) (David Blackwood/Art Gallery of Ontario)

Newfoundland first

Emma Butler, who had spoken with Blackwood shortly before his death, says he was still talking about Newfoundland and the aspects of the land he wanted to portray in his art.

“He was a complex man. He was well educated. would talk about this place.”

“It was all about his job. And he was very sick for a long time, but was determined to get better because he had more work to do.”

Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Back To Top