London / New York
In 1953, Frank Bowling arrived in London. While the city incubated his practice, yielding a distinctive early aesthetic drawing from sociopolitical issues, expressionistic figuration, and pop art, after a few visits to New York in the early ’60s, Bowling set up a studio at 535 Broadway in 1966. There he went bigger in scale, moved his canvases off the easel, and embraced abstraction. In the decades since, the newly knighted Bowling has split life and work between the cultural capitals, detouring to a warehouse in DUMBO in the ’90s and ultimately settling in South London’s Peacock Yard.
The artist’s transatlantic comings and goings ground the narrative arc of his inaugural solo show at Hauser & Wirth, presented concurrently at the gallery’s New York and London locations. Featuring works made over the scope of his six-decade-long career, the ground floor of the gallery’s Chelsea space sequences two rooms displaying his sweeping, exuberantly hued paintings, some incorporating foam and other found detritus.
Noted for his ongoing experiments with abstract technique and materiality, Bowling’s formal innovation is embedded with allusions to displacement, colonialism, the Black experience, as well as his autobiography. Both created in 1971, Texas Louise and Polish Rebecca are examples of his layered “maps paintings,” a series in which he reorients Western-centric world maps. The concept, for Bowling, took shape after receiving an optical projector from artist Larry Rivers in the mid-’60s. In the compositions, bright pools of paint overlay stenciled landmasses and silkscreened images as the sharp contours of South America come into focus; polychromatic pigments are applied to the canvas via pour, spray, and stain. These monumental pieces anchor the exhibition, while others smaller in scale and utilizing found objects—such as Piano to Guyana (2004) [pictured]—demonstrate Bowling’s mastery of vigorous color and form. —Colleen Kelsey
Frank Bowling, Piano to Guyana, 2004. Acrylic, acrylic gel and found objects on canvas with marouflage, 87 3/4 x83 7/8 inches; 90 1/2 x 86 inches. © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021. Photo: Damian Griffiths.