Visit Frank Bowling's "London /New York" exhibition at Hauser & Wirth London
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
To reflect the scope and scale of a six-decade career that graciously unfolded while dividing life and work between London and New York, Hauser & Wirth presents “Frank Bowling – London / New York,” a vibrant celebration of the British artist’s ingenious expansion beyond the frontiers of abstraction.
“Frank Bowling has redefined the course of abstract painting” (Iwan Wirth, Hauser & Wirth)
This exhibition marks the beginning of Frank Bowling's collaboration with one of the biggest galleries in the world - Hauser & Wirth spans three continents with 10 galleries and a bookstore.
“When I arrived in London in 1953, it felt like coming home.”
Born in Guyana, Bowling arrived in London in 1953 at the age of 19 and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1962, alongside an ambitious and talented group of students that included David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj, and Derek Boshier. He instantly recognised London as HOME.
“The fact is, it’s stimulating and exciting to work in London, Turner’s town. The pressures of the weight of British tradition are exhilarating.”
He admired the Old Masters in the National and Tate galleries. The achievements of towering British artists such as Turner, Constable, and Gainsborough inspired both his perseverance and his painting style over the years.
Their classic landscapes shed light on how to use translucent gel to add body to paint for the impasto technique. In London, he became recognised as an authentic force due to his style that imaginatively combined symbolic, figurative, and abstract elements.
During the 1980s, having taken up a studio in Pimlico, near the Thames, Bowling began to explore the purely abstract traits of conventional painting while being connected to the rich European painterly tradition of representing the abstract forms of the sea, land, clouds, and sky.
By unceasingly cultivating his passion for historical European painting, by the late 1980s, Bowling embarked on a journey of experimentation: “I was trying to invent ways of using the traditional methods of applying paint – dripping, spilling, marking, measuring”.
"In London I tended to look at the tragic side of human behaviour and tried to reflect that in my work, but gradually, as I became more involved in making paintings, I realised that the main ingredients are colour and geometry." (Frank Bowling in conversation with the Art Newspaper).
In one of his recent works on display at Hauser & Wirth London, "May Shimmer" (2018), Bowling attains a subtle radiance by using drops of pearlescence, a pigment known for its iridescent, shimmering effects.
By surrounding muddy-pink tones with lively yellow and green, an intense visual dynamism emerges from the light refracted from pieces of jagged straw packing material rooted in the paint.
And while London is where Bowling achieved early acclaim and trained as a painter, New York is the city where he got involved in discussions of Black Art, at the height of the Civil Rights movement and provided the fresh ideas and energy craved by pioneering artists. As he was searching for new ways to paint, he knew that as much as he loved London, New York was the place. He chose to get the best of both art scenes by maintaining studios in each of them.
As for New York, at first, he lived at the legendary Chelsea Hotel - famous for housing Jackson Pollock, Arthur Miller, Bob Dylan, and Dylan Thomas. He met theatre people, writers, and artists like Franz Kline, Ken Noland, Andy Warhol, and Jules Olitski which helped him expanded his horizons beyond imagination.
New York was the ultimate frontline of artistic aspiration. Clement Greenberg spotted the natural colorist in Bowling and told him:“in America, there is no no-go area for anybody.” This freed Bowling and allowed him to pursue his shift from figuration to abstraction.
The “Frank Bowling – London / New York” exhibition reflects how his transatlantic orientation transformed his original interest in pop art and expressive figuration into a uniquely poetic abstraction that keeps evolving to this day. His works masterfully combine the legacies of both the traditional English landscape and American abstract expressionism.
Bowling’s exploration of colour, light, and geometry was also profoundly influenced by the complexities of his upbringing in Guyana and his life’s greatest rivers - he lived by The Thames in London and the East River in New York.
Their marine brilliance was beautifully absorbed into his aesthetic vision. It often happened for him to start the work on a canvas in one city, then just roll it up to finish it in the other. This way of life helped him merge the atmosphere of both cities.
The constant journeying between London and New York led him to cut up canvases so they’d be much easier to transport; sometimes, he would even attach a canvas to another work and add extra strips to the cropped edges.
This is visible in works like "Jamsahibwall"(1990) - a seven-part work whose formal framing extends into the painted ground area, showcasing once again the ground-breaking essence of Bowling’s approach to technique. Don't miss the exclusive chance to see how his paintings celebrate a life lived in varying colours and lights!
Visit the "Frank Bowling London / New York" exhibition
📆 Until 31 Jul 2021
📍 Hauser & Wirth, 23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET
📍 Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street 5 May - 30 July 2021
Did you enjoy this article? Great! If you'd like to contribute to the running costs of WithinLondon, click the button below: