Frank Bowling at Tate Britain

The new Frank Bowling exhibition at Tate Britain shines a spotlight on a master of abstract art. Peter Gray reports.

Frank Bowling Exhibition
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This new retrospective of the artist is the first major show to cover the many different phases of Bowling’s distinguished career.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically beginning in the 1960’s with the artist’s arresting “map” portraits. This collection of work tugs at the idea of identity, place and belonging, using Bowling’s personal recollections, the contours of several maps and generous layers of colour. The series proved a stepping stone towards genuine abstraction for the artist.

The show then moves on to showcase Bowling highly experimental “poured” paintings of the early seventies. The work was the result of Bowling’s fascination with the art and artists of New York. Bowling moved to the city in 1966 and he soon began to assimilate the cultural influences of his new home, at a time when local artists were increasingly embracing abstraction and experiment.

Inspired by what he had seen, Bowling began to pour paint directly onto his canvases. The artist fashioned an elaborate platform which enabled him to distribute the paint from up to 30 feet above. Paint drizzled, dripped and spilled out onto ever increasing canvases as the artist embraced the abstractionism that was sweeping his new homeland.

The new method required great skill but Bowling was also quick to acknowledge the role fortune played in the process. “I would readjust the painting according to the geometry, or to Fibonacci and Jay Hambidge” he said to the Guardian Newspaper, “but sometimes chance played its part”. I’m very open to accidents”.

In New York, Bowling was quick to challenge the notions of the Black Arts Movement which dictated that African Americans should only make authentically “black” art. Bowling pointed out that there was no such thing as “black art” or “white art”. There was only good art and bad art. Bowling argued that not only did people of colour have a role to play in furthering the evolution of modern art but also that Africa’s historical role in the creation of the genre itself had never been properly acknowledged.

Bowling later lamented the influence of race on his career and life. “It’s impossible to escape race” he said in an interview before adding “but I don’t want it in my studio”.

The Frank Bowling Exhibition will be at Tate Britain from the 31st of May 2019 until the 26th of August 2019.

If you’d like more details about the exhibition, check out the Frank Bowling article on the Tate Britain website.

If you’d like to discover more great exhibitions, please check out our guide to art events in London.

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