Known for his lack of patience with the trappings of success, Mr Blackshaw rarely gave interviews and shied away from publicity but one person who knew him very well was his model and muse of 30 years, Dr Judith Stephens of Queen’s University, Belfast.
Dr Stephens said that one of the joys of modelling for Mr Blackshaw was watching him at work. “He never kept still. He engaged in a way that was very dynamic; he moved continuously around his canvas, evaluating it from different angles as he worked,” she said.
“I’m going to miss the quiet philosopher, his mischievous sense of humour, his kindness, and his talent, but I’ll be reminded of all of these things every time I look at one of his paintings,” she said.
Mr Blackshaw’s portraits included playwright Brian Friel, actor Clint Eastwood, and former SDLP leader John Hume, but he was perhaps better known for his depictions of rural life, influenced by his interest in greyhounds, racehorses, and cock fighting.
Having battled alcoholism, marital breakdown, and a studio fire in 1985, Mr Blackshaw’s life has been described by art critic Brian Fallon as “an epic of survival”. Despite occasional periods of low productivity, he continued to develop and experiment with his style well into his seventies, progressing towards a bold and increasingly abstract output, having been hailed in earlier work as an “Irish Expressionist” painter.
Cork gallery owner Nuala Fenton paid tribute to Mr Blackshaw as an artist who “really pushed the boat out throughout his career”. Ms Fenton exhibited Mr Blackshaw’s work in her Cork gallery in 2005, with the painter creating a dramatic collection of 15 new paintings exclusively for the exhibition.
“It was a dream to work with someone of that vision and awareness. The scope of what he touched upon got philosophically more interesting all the time. He didn’t like the commercial art world and he didn’t like auction values, exhibition openings, hype; any of that stuff,” she said. His retiring nature and lack of patience for publicity led to the artist jokingly donning a paper bag for publicity shots for the 2005 exhibition, which was shown in Paris the following year.
Other examples of Basil Blackshaw's works painted over a period of years. Basil has a new perspective today. RIP pic.twitter.com/31QUtKcHfu— Eamonn Mallie (@EamonnMallie) May 3, 2016
Mr Blackshaw is survived by his daughter, the artist Anya Waterworth, and his partner of 40 years, Helen Faloon.