Frank Bowling: Penumbral Light 10 June – 20 August 2022 Hauser & Wirth Zurich Limmatstrasse 270 8005 Zürich
Over the course of six decades, Sir Frank Bowling has relentlessly pursued a practice which boldly expands the properties of paint. For the artist’s first solo presentation in Switzerland, coinciding with Zurich Art Weekend, ‘Frank Bowling. Penumbral Light’, displays recent abstract paintings made mostly during the London lockdown in 2020. Following a period of ill health for the artist in 2019, the works trace the renewed energy and dynamism that Bowling channelled in the studio during his recovery.
His restless reinvention of the painted plane endures in this current body of work, which continues to break new ground through the artist’s use of multi-layered washes, thick impasto textures, acrylic gels, stitched canvas and metallic and pearlescent pigments.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an eponymous catalogue by Hauser & Wirth Publishers, featuring texts by Arnolfini Bristol curator Gemma Brace and Ben Bowling, the artist’s son. In October 2022, ‘Frank Bowling’s Americas’ will open at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the first major survey of the artist’s work by an American institution in more than four decades, which will travel to SFMOMA in San Francisco in 2023. In 2021, Bowling was awarded the Wolfgang Hahn Prize, and a presentation of the newly acquired painting ‘Flogging the Dead Donkey’ (2020) will go on view at Museum Ludwig, Cologne in November 2022.
Born in Guyana in 1934, Bowling arrived in London in 1953, graduating from the Royal College of Art with the silver medal for painting in 1962. At the age of 88, he continues to work most days in his South London studio, forever driven by his fascination with the vast and radiant possibilities of paint. In Zurich, Bowling’s latest body of work culminates in nine large-scale, luminescent canvases that celebrate the artist’s achievements in exploring the properties of light, water and colour.
Employing a plethora of vivid hues in water-based paints, from acid greens and scorched yellows to neon pinks and deep reds, works such as ‘Towards the Palace of the Peacock’ (2020) and ‘Up a Tree’ (2021) evoke the vibrancy of past series, whilst highlighting a more relaxed and fluid approach to the artist’s painterly process. Aided by chance, Bowling submerges many of his canvases in water, then layers pigmented washes and allows drips of paint to merge, swirl and run across the canvas.
Bowling often intervenes in this process by using a handheld spray bottle to change the form and course of the running paint. Works such as ‘Watermelon Bight’ and ‘Oriented Light’ (both 2020) suggest the speed at which these droplets make their journey across the canvas. The themes of water, shorelines and memory are central to the works and are evoked through the dried areas of layered paint that become reminiscent of borders, as seen in ‘Penumbral Lite’ (2020), harking back to earlier series such as Bowling’s Map paintings from the 1960s.
Drawing on memory and imagination, the works on view are largely inspired by early experiences of the light in Guyana, as well as the light surrounding the River Thames, which the artist crosses daily while travelling to his London studio. ‘I think that living in the tropics is different from living in a more temperate light, and it’s this that I want to portray…’ states Bowling, ‘my work is all about this experience.’
By using pearlescent pigments, works such as ‘The Pearl Poet’ (2020) both masterfully emanate light and appear illuminated from within, contained through the artist’s coating of turpentine and beeswax.
In works such as ‘Thunder in the Night’ (2020), Bowling continues to play with translucency through patches of gel on the surface, revealing layers of paint and glitter below. ‘The whole business of living is to reveal, and the special story about each life becomes much clearer if that person reveals themselves or is being transparent,’ says Bowling. Ambitious in scale and scope, Bowling’s dynamic engagement with the materiality of his chosen medium in these works has resulted in paintings that continue to highlight the artist’s unparalleled originality.
Through this late body of work, ‘Penumbral Light’ is a testament to Bowling’s pioneering spirit in revealing the intrinsic qualities of light through paint. The presentation in Zurich coincides with ‘Frank Bowling and Sculpture’ at Stephen Lawrence Gallery in London, the first exhibition to focus on the artist’s sculptures and the sculptural aspects of his paintings.