Born in Glengormley, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and brought up in Boardmills, County Down, Blackshaw attended Methodist College Belfast and studied at Belfast College of Art (1948–1951). In 1951 Blackshaw was awarded a scholarship by the Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, to study in Paris. He was initially acclaimed for his mastery of traditional approaches to painting. He continued to develop as an artist becoming most highly regarded for his very loose gestural application of paint and a very distinctive and subtle use of colour. His paintings of such sports as horse racing and boxing have made him particularly popular but Blackshaw is also a talented portrait painter. Blackshaw's painting are very often figurative in form, but with a non-naturalistic palate which re-balances the composition in an expressionist, even abstract, way. His themes are very Irish and often rural; greyhounds, Irish Travellers and the landscape. He has also produced portraits and has designed posters for Derry's Field Day Theatre Company. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland organised a major retrospective of his work in 1995, which travelled from Belfast to Dublin, Cork and many galleries in the United States. In 2001 he received the Glen Dimplex Award for a Sustained Contribution to the Visual Arts in Ireland.The Ulster Museum held a major exhibition of his work in 2002 and a major book was published by Eamonn Mallie on the artist in 2003. For a 2005 exhibition at the Fenton Gallery in Cork, Blackshaw worked exclusively over the previous 20 months creating a dramatic collection of 15 new paintings. His choice of arguably mundane subjects, The Studio Door, Car, Wall, Six Trees, express both an engagement with tradition and a watchful detachment. In 2006 Basil Blackshaw's work was exhibited at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris. Blackshaw was elected as an associate of the Royal Ulster Academy of the Arts in 1977, and elected an Academician in 1981.