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Frank Bowling’s new paintings Are family affairs

In magazine articles, Bowling defended the right of Black artists to focus on aesthetics over politics, and he collaborated with other Black abstract painters to stage the group show “5+1” at the gall
In magazine articles, Bowling defended the right of Black artists to focus on aesthetics over politics, and he collaborated with other Black abstract painters to stage the group show “5+1” at the galleries of State University of New York at Stony Brook; in 1971, he had a solo exhibition at the Whitney. (Photo: Unsplash)
LONDON — On a recent afternoon behind a scruffy door in South London, remarkable alchemical transformations were taking place under the watchful eye of painter Frank Bowling. Wearing industrial masks, a team of assistants brushed and dolloped ammonia, gold powder, acrylic gel and water onto a dripping canvas hung onto Bowling’s studio wall.اضافة اعلان

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

“Put gel on the edges of the square. No, you’re putting it on the flat,” Bowling said, guiding the action on the canvas with a laser pointer. “Dust that with the gold. Brush the water all over.”

“Lovely,” he added. “Now throw what’s left in the bucket at the surface.”

Bowling can bark orders at his assistants in such a forthright manner 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, makes colorful borders around his works by gluing and stapling on painted canvas strips.

Throughout most of his career, beginning in the 1950s, Bowling created his physically demanding works himself. But owing to fragile health over the past decade, he has increasingly ceded the labor of painting to family members — although he controls every detail, from the size and positioning of the canvas to the mixing of pigment, layering of coats and the application of materials.

It was clear from the good-natured banter in the studio that Bowling enjoys these cross-generational family sessions.
“Oh yes,” he said in an interview. “I get off on it.”

After many years in the art-world wilderness, Bowling is enjoying a surge of late recognition. In 2019, Tate Britain in London held a major retrospective; from May 5 to July 30, Hauser and Wirth will present “London/New York,” a single exhibition stretched across its galleries in both cities.

The trans-Atlantic presentation of the Hauser and Wirth show suits an artist who has forged a career between Britain and the United States and a visual language that draws on the traditions of English landscape painting and American abstract expressionism.

Born in 1934 in Guyana, then a British colony, Bowling’s long career has traversed many styles, including expressive figuration, pop art and color field painting. He is best known for his “Map Paintings,” melting panoramas of color stenciled with faint maps of Guyana, Africa and South America; his vigorous cascades of pigment known as “Poured Paintings”; and his almost sculptural reliefs, thickly encrusted with everyday objects from jewelry to plastic toys.
Although they are not representational, his paintings are documents of his life.

Bowling arrived in Britain in 1953, at age 19, and won a place at the Royal College of Art, studying alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj. His early paintings have the raw, tortured feel of Francis Bacon, who was briefly a friend, but by his graduation in 1962, Bowling was creating vibrant, geometric compositions with a pop art aesthetic.

These works were hits with London critics, but when international attention came with an invitation to represent Britain at the 1966 World Festival of Negro Arts, in Senegal, Bowling said he was irked.

A raft of nations had recently gained independence from colonial rule, and the festival was a celebration of Pan-African culture, bringing together artists, musicians, writers and performers from the African diaspora, including Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker. Yet Bowling felt he was being co-opted by Britain’s art establishment and pushed into an unwanted role as a Black British artist, he said.

“The empire had collapsed. The whole business of trying to placate the former colonial people — my art suddenly served that purpose,” Bowling said.

Zoé Whitley, a co-curator of Tate Modern’s landmark 2017 exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” said in an email that Bowling “always had a complex relationship to empire, race and to identifying labels of any sort other than ‘artist.’ ”

“That resistance to pigeonholing, while confounding to many, might just be one of the character traits that heralds Frank’s six decades of mold breaking,” she added.

His turn to abstraction when he moved to New York in 1966 is just one example of Bowling running 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 like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Morris Louis, whose influences he synthesized into his own distinctive style, incorporating zip motifs and dreamy color fields.

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

In magazine articles, Bowling defended the right of Black artists to focus on aesthetics over politics, and he collaborated with other Black abstract painters to stage the group show “5+1” at the galleries of State University of New York at Stony Brook; in 1971, he had a solo exhibition at the Whitney. All the while, Bowling was experimenting obsessively with color, smearing, spraying, staining, spattering, pooling and cutting into the works.

He began using a self-built wooden tilting platform to pour paint onto a raised canvas, changing the direction and speed of flow to allow what he called “controlled accidents” to shape the works.

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