“I’m looking for something that will jolt me and I can feel that rush – the nervous system being so excited it’s going to act. It’s what keeps me awake at night.”
Born in Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1934, Frank Bowling is regarded as one of the finest British abstract artists of his generation. With a unique understanding of colour and geometry, he has dedicated his life to the explorations of these themes, producing artwork that has reached global recognition.
Migrating to London in 1953, aged 19, Bowling graduated from the Royal College of Art (RCA) where he studied alongside David Hockney, Peter Blake, Derek Boshier, Robin Denny and R.B. Kitaj. In 1962 he was awarded the silver medal for painting in 1962, coming a close second to Hockney.
Bowling saw the London art scene of the early 1960s as a challenging chapter in his career. In a conversation with The Guardian in 2012 he discussed his struggles as a Black artist: “It seemed that everyone was expecting me to paint some kind of protest art out of postcolonial discussion. For a while I fell for it”. It wasn’t until he moved to New York in 1966 that he discovered his unique voice through abstraction and began to gain recognition in the cities thriving art scene.
The years that followed saw Bowling’s practise evolve. Known for bold experimentation, his artworks included a multitude of layers, often using different viscosities of paint to achieve a variety of outcomes. In 1971 his solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York showcased his iconic ‘Map Paintings’; these vivid works on canvas incorporated vast swathes of colour with outlines and stencilled maps, often symbolically focusing on the southern hemisphere. The series proved to be a defining moment in Bowling’s career and the paintings were featured as the centre-piece for the exhibition Faultlines: Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003.
In 2005, Bowling became a Royal Academician and was awarded the OBE for services to Art in 2008. His work is represented in fifty international museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Royal Academy of Arts, London, Tate, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, London as well as collections in Guyana, Jamaica, Australia, Germany and Portugal.
In 2019, his long-awaited retrospective The Possibilities of Paint are Endless opened at the Tate Britain – celebrating his 60-year career. In a further addition to his list of accolades, in 2020 Bowling received a Knighthood from the Queen. He is also the subject of a BBC documentary ‘Frank Bowling’s Abstract World’, which coincided with the opening of the Tate Retrospective.
The artist divides his time between studios in New York and London, continuing his dedication to the exploring the possibilities of expression through his materials.
Banner image credit: Tony Evans