Blake’s early work expressed key concerns of his artistic practice: an interest in everyday experience and private passions – as seen in his portraits and still-life works – and popular art forms. During Blake’s youth a range of preoccupations emerged that have continued throughout his artistic career. The circus provided fertile subject matter, inspiring works depicting tattooed female entertainers that demonstrate his interest in the more exotic reaches of live entertainment.
Blake’s childhood was disrupted by evacuation during the Second World War. Many of his works depict scenes that express a longing for lost youth or an empathy with the concerns of youth. Wearing jackets emblazoned with badges, the boys in ABC Minors 1955 seem to occupy the same space as the viewer, positioning us at the same level as the children. The influence of global culture on Blake’s homeland is expressed in Self Portrait with Badges 1961, the artist centre stage, patriotic against a softly painted green and pleasant landscape, proudly expressing his increasingly Americanised passions.
Domestic Japanese screens inspired Blake to create works from gold and silver leaf, revealing his interest in decorative motifs within the home. They were also motivated by his desire to avoid categorisation as a particular kind of artist – they were as different from his other works as he could make them. In his approach to culture, in its broadest sense, Blake’s work combines an intuitive and referential use of subject matter with sophisticated pictorial techniques and preferences. No matter the source of his inspiration, the style of his work is always recognisably his own.