Frank Bowling’s new painting Family Matters


LONDON – On a recent afternoon behind a decaying door in South London, notable chemical changes were taking place under the watchful eye of painter Frank Bowling. Wearing industrial masks, a team of assistants put ammonia, gold powder, acrylic gel and water on the canvases that dripped onto the wall of Bowling’s studio.

Looking at the fedora and the dapper in a green velvet jacket, the 87-year-old artist directed the proceedings in a wheelchair in the center of the room.

“Put the prison on the sides of the square. No, you’re laying it flat, ”said Bowling, guiding the action on the canvas with a laser pointer. “Dust with gold. Brush the water everywhere.”

“Lovely,” he said. “Now throw what is left in the bucket on the surface.”

Bowling can command his assistants so accurately because they are, in fact, his family: his son, Ben Bowling; His stepdaughter, Marcia Scott; And his grandson, Samson Sahmland-Bowling. His wife, textile artist Rachel Scott, dazzles and primates on colorful canvas strips to create colorful borders around her work.

Throughout most of his career, in the early 1950s, Bowling worked to physically demand himself. But due to deteriorating health over the past decade, he has increased the labor of painting the family Member – Although he controls every detail from the shape and position of the canvas to the mixture of pigment, coat layer and application of the material.

It was clear from the good-natured banker in the studio that Bowling enjoys cross-generational family sessions.

“Oh yes,” he said in an interview. “I get off on it.”

After many years in the art-world jungle, bowling has been enjoying recognition as of late. In 2019, Tate Britain held a major retrospective in London; May 5 to July 30, Hauser and Wirth to present “London / New York” Both cities have a solo exhibition in its galleries.

The trans-Atlantic rendition of the Hauser and Weirth show suits an artist who has carved out a career between Britain and the United States and is a visual language based on traditions of English landscape painting and American abstract expression.

Born in Guyana in 1934, then a British colony, Bowling’s long career has explored many genres, including expressive illustration, pop art, and color field painting. He is best known for his “map paintings”, melting panoramas of color with faint maps of Guyana, Africa and South America; His vigorous cascade of pigment known as “vigorous painting”; And his almost sculptural relief, largely entrusted with everyday objects from jewelry to plastic toys.

Although they are not represented, his paintings are documents of his life.

Bowling arrived in Britain in 1953 at the age of 19, and earned a place in the Royal College of Art, studying with David Hawkney and RB Kitaj. Among his early paintings is the raw, tortured spirit of Francis Bacon, who was friends for a short time, but upon his graduation in 1962, Bowling was creating vibrant, geometric compositions with a pop art aesthetic.

The works were a hit with London critics, but when international attention came to Senegal with an invitation to represent Britain at the 1966 World Festival of Negro Arts, Bowling said he was upset.

A group of nations recently gained independence from colonial rule, and the festival was a celebration of Pan-African culture, bringing together artists, musicians, writers and artists of African descent, including Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker . He said Bowling felt he was being co-opted into a UK art installation and pushed into an undesired role as a black British artist.

“The empire had collapsed. The whole business of trying to topple pre-colonial people – my art suddenly served that purpose, ”said Bowling.

Zoe Whitley, co-curator of Tate Modern’s Landmark 2017 exhibitionSoul of a Soul: Art in the Age of Black Power, “Said in an email that Bowling” was always a more complex relationship to identify any type of label than empire, race and ‘artist’.

“Resistance to pigeonholing, confusing many people, may have been one of the hallmarks of the character that breaks Frank’s six-decade mold,” he said.

When he moved to New York in 1966, his turn to captivate is only an example of bowling against the grain. During the civil rights movement, many artists of color were creating figurative works that dealt with the black experience. But Bowling was interested in painters such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Morris Louis, whose influence synthesized him in his own distinctive style, including zip motifs and imaginary color zones.

“All these tricks or inventions, or technical discoveries in my work, are informed by the daring of abstract expressions,” Bowling said.

In magazine articles, Bowling defended the right of black artists to focus on aesthetics over politics, and he staged the group show “5 + 1” at the State University of New York’s gallery in Stony Brook to show other blacks Collaborated with abstract painters; In 1971, he had a solo exhibition at Whitney. All the while, Bowling was doing obscene experiments with coloring, smearing, spraying, staining, splattering, pooling, and cutting tasks.

They started using a self-made wooden tilting platform, which allows changing the direction and speed of flow, to put paint on the raised canvas. What he called “controlled accidents” to shape the works.

American artist Julie Mehretu said by phone from New York, “These kinds of works have such incredible enthusiasm, which is just blasphemous and transformative.” Mehrattu said Her current solo show at WhitneyFrom 8 August, the efforts of Bowling and others in his corner after fighting felt like a recognition of the importance of abstraction.

He said, “All those artists, and all those years of work, and in that form were indebted for an insistence and perseverance and invention.”

Despite success in the United States, Bowling struggled for land exhibitions in Britain when family commitments brought him back in 1975. (He kept his New York studio, and is working back and forth between the two cities.)

Yet ambiguity in Britain gave him the freedom to try something new, resulting in his most audacious works.

For example, his “Great Thames” paintings from the late 80s are heavily constructed works combining metallic pigments, acrylic foam, peerless powder, and autobiographical miscellany, such as pill holders and urine-testing urticaria. Uses Bowling to treat his diabetes. . Among these teaming rivers is the praise and admiration of JMW Turner’s brightness and theatricality, and John Constable’s rigor, two English painters Bowling.

By the turn of the century, artists were gaining more attention: In 2005, Bowling became the first black British artist to be elected to the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts in London. It is a tradition that new members of the institution, called “academics”, give one of their works to its collection. In an unprecedented snub, its members initially declined the bowling offer.

Artist Isaac Julian said in a telephone interview that Bowling’s reception in Britain was influenced by “deep-structured racism” due to the “significant neglect” of his works. Bowling has always been a role model for him, adding that the old artist’s self-confidence and ability to endure without enduring tribulations was an “extraordinary lesson in life”.

In this interview Bowling preferred not to talk about race; He wanted to talk about painting, which dominates his waking thoughts. Even at night, he said, he wakes up in bed and imagines his canvases coming together on the roof.

Translating those forms into physical forms now falls to his family’s assistants, but this new way of working has done little to reduce his appetite for risk-taking.

“Lovelock’s Whole Earth,” completed in March, is a shining glimpse of fuchsia, magenta, violet, and fluorescent orange hues. It took over a month for Ben, his son, and Marcia, their stepdaughter, to work after they had dabbed the canvas with the materials of half-finished paint buckets, then acrylic gel, gold powder, and ammonia (which is gold in indigo Changed to) scooped on.

To absorb the liquid, he threw a sliced ​​magazine and packing material clots onto the marshy surface with toxic waste bags, syringe cases and other detritus collected by Bowling during a recent hospital visit. When the thickness of the packing material refused to level, they took it with Blocert.

“I was definitely worried that the painting might not work,” Ben said, “but Frank said, ‘No, no, no!” We are not failing. ”

“Frank has real courage” Marcia said, “Every single day the painting is changing, and you’re against it.”

Bowling, who still visits the studio daily, looks contented at the atmospheric canvases lining the walls. “I have a time when I wish I was able to do it myself,” he said. “But what has been done makes me feel good.”

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