Lisa N. Peters
Recently included in our exhibition, Fifteen Contemporary Artists, Frank Bowling is also being featured in several current and upcoming individual and group exhibitions. The solo shows consist of Frank Bowling: Recent Paintings, opening at Spanierman Modern on March 29 (view catalogue PDF), Frank Bowling: Poured Paintings, opening at Tate Britain on April 30, Frank Bowling: Recent Large Works, opening at Hales Gallery, London, on May 31, and Frank Bowling: Recent Small Works, opening at Chris Dyson Gallery, London, on July 6. A two-man show of the work of Bowling and Dennis DeCaires opened February 28 at the University of Glyndwr, in Wrexham, North Wales. Bowling is at the center of one the group exhibitions: Bowling’s Friends, opening at the Cello Factory, London, on May 23. This show situates Bowling among artists of a younger generation whose work he admires. The other group shows include Migrations, which opened January 31 at Tate Britain (this show explores the theme of migration from 1500 to the present, reflecting the range of the Tate Britain’s collections); British Design, 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum on March 31; and A Family Affair, opening at the Cello Factory on June 2. On October 12, 2012, during Bowling’s exhibition at the Tate Britain, the culture critic and writer Courtney Martin will conduct a public conversation with the artist. This will take place during Frieze week and will be held in the Clore Auditorium from noon to 1:30 pm.
Bowling’s shows, following the publication of Mel Gooding’s 2011 monograph on the artist and his many honors (including becoming the first black Royal Academician), give recognition to the richness of his art in its varied facets over many decades.
Bowling’s paintings reference many artistic sources. The legacy of Pollock is present in their dripped and splattered surfaces. There’s also a sense of Rothko’s shifting and resonant color that seems to hang in front of what is seen. Older associations can also be discerned, among them the sublime and radiant light in the art of Turner.
This is vividly apparent in 37528 (2008), a blazing and shimmering atmospheric image. Its feeling is both celestial and aquatic. The light is complex–a fiery glow, associated with masculine force, blended with a cooler haze, evoking the feminine. A mood results that is mixed, both emotive and contemplative. In this painting and others, canvas layers are stitched together, and edges have been cut with pinking shears, methods in which Bowling summons the memory of his mother, a seamstress who parlayed her talent at sewing dresses, hats, and Indian saris into a successful business. As a teenager, Bowling worked a route for his mother, taking orders for clothing and selling swatches and pattern books.
The light in Carriage (2006) is even more varied. A vivid pink shape emerges from the center of the field, recalling the maps of Africa that Bowling featured in his art in the late 1960s, but here the shape is distorted and amorphous. Is it suggestive of the tumult of hope and despair gripping Ethiopia and Somalia at the end of the last decade? Whether it is symbolic or not, the painting has the dynamic subtlety that characterizes Bowling’s work along with the craftsmanship that stemmed from his youthful experience, endowing it with authencity.