During the past ten years, Frank Bowling has finally enjoyed the recognition he deserves. Bowling, now 87, received his first retrospective at Tate Britain in 2019 and was Knighted by the Queen on her Birthday Honours List less than a year later.
While Bowling’s ascent was a long time coming, he was signed to Hauser & Wirth less than a year ago. The transatlantic gallery was quick to organize shows featuring his works and recently opened its New York and London outposts, marking the Bowling’s inaugural exhibitions. With works ranging from 1967 to 2020, ‘Frank Bowling – London / New York’ captures how one artist’s inventive approach to the physicality of paint pushed abstraction to its limits and made him one of the leading abstractionists alive today.
As the exhibition title suggests, the simultaneous shows follow Bowling’s life and career between the UK and the US over the course of half a century. Born in Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1934, the artist arrived in London in 1953 and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1962, along with artists like David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj and Allen Jones.
While he maintained studios in both cities, London and New York, his modern contemporaries saw great acclaim in Britain. Bowling, for reasons unknown, but certainly unrelated to the merit of his work, never saw mainstream success at that time, which many now consider to be one of the greatest artistic oversights in the past century.
The exhibitions span Bowling’s early engagement with expressive figuration and pop art, all the way to his signature blend of poetry and abstraction that continues to inform his output today. Visible in his works are the influences of the English landscape painting styles of Gainsborough, Turner and Constable. Most visible is 1960’s New York and Abstract Expressionism which Bowling engaged with in the forms of bright colours and gestural improvisation.
Interestingly, Bowling would frequently start a painting in one city and finish it in the other, making his works a hybrid fusion of cities, cultures and environments. In his words, ‘I would just roll the lot up and move. And I knew that when I got to the other end, I could roll them out again and continue to work.’ Bowling’s command of light, colour, and geometry was greatly influenced by the two great bodies of water in his life: The Thames in London and the East River in New York, near to which he maintained his studios.