Frank Bowling is arguably Britain’s greatest living abstractionist. His colour field works are incandescent and shimmer with intensity, hope. Until recently, he has been largely overlooked and the prolific Bowling remained little-known outside of art world circles. Happily, his public profile is on the rise (thanks in part to a retrospective at Tate Britain in 2019, a knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours in 2020). A solo show at Hauser & Wirth in London and New York last summer made his name known.
Born in Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1934, Bowling has spent the past 40 years criss-crossing the Atlantic. His Hauser & Wirth show brought together works from across his six-decade career that explore his stylistic shift from figuration and pop art to abstraction, as well as the influence of both London and New York on his creative vision. He was also met with new dilemmas as the Civil Rights Movement intensified in a city where divisions between the art of Black and white artists remained stark.
The show also celebrated his inventive approach to the materiality of paint — notably his use of thick impasto textures, acrylic gels, and metallic and pearlescent pigments. Visible in his work are the legacies of the English landscape traditions of Gainsborough, Turner and Constable. May Shimmer (2018) was among many highlights in London: the canvas of muddy-pink tones is flecked with vibrant yellows and greens and drops of pearlescence that make it shimmer. Others included False Start (1970), that highlights and reveals the topography of the globe, and Orange Sun (2017), in which a glowing orb shines through a mottled, bruised sky. “The English landscape tradition is a rich view that I could keep ploughing,” he muses, “but I don’t want to make Constables. I want to make new works that have spirit and richness,” he says.