Frank Bowling on color, the sublime, and painting paradox


Frank Bowling, Up a Tree (detail), 2021, acrylic, acrylic gel, and plastic insect additions on canvas with marouflage, 112 1/4 x 73 x 2 3/8".

For 6 many years, Frank Bowling has experimented with how private and political reminiscence can also be sustained throughout the constraints of late-modernist abstraction. A solo exhibition, “Penumbral Gentle,” is on view at Hauser & Wirth in Zurich thru August 20, and a big survey, “Frank Bowling’s Americas,” will open on the Museum of Tremendous Arts, Boston, in October. Underneath, the Guyana-born, London-based artist discusses his abstraction as an come across with one thing concurrently acquainted and surprising, forced via a long-lasting fascination with what a painted floor can also be.

I’M WORKING THROUGH WATERY TERRAIN this present day. I’ve been crossing the river Thames on a daily basis to visit my studio for many years and I’m all the time running with water—buckets and buckets of it—to douse or spray the canvas. The works within the Zurich display all began out as ten-foot swathes of cotton-duck canvas soaked in boiling water and washing up liquid. Then I unfurl them at the ground of my studio in Peacock Backyard and observe washes of coloration, spreading wet-into-wet. Laid at the floor, the skin of the canvas paperwork one of those shallow pool that we could the fabric unfold. I’ve been excited about dust slobs, like the ones you to find in Eire, across the coast of West Cork, the place you get little runnels of muddy water alongside the estuary when the tide has long gone out, and the dust and muddy water is form of glowing the place the water catches the solar. Chances are you'll assume dust is simply dust, nevertheless it has a sheen and there are all forms of issues combined up in its slime: damaged glass, driftwood, flotsam and jetsam introduced in via the tides. My portray procedure is the same. It’s perpetually attention-grabbing to peer what occurs when the fabric hits the skin, how the paint will run and transfer, unfold and bleed, wet-into-wet, doing issues. Infrequently it feels love it would possibly simply transform a muddy mess, and then you definitely glance once more—it's possible you'll simply catch a glimpse of it out of the nook of your eye, and there it's! One thing magical has emerged from subject matter that you just haven’t noticed prior to. That’s what I’m in search of.

I perceive this revelation as one of those a paradox, in that I see it as a second of popularity of the form or high quality of the paintings that was once already there, or was once already going to be there, even prior to I began. I see every portray because the unpredictable, however someway inevitable, consequence of my procedure. It could sound loopy, however I believe that every portray was once all the time going to prove how it does, even supposing I couldn’t have predicted it prematurely. I’m every so often requested about my aim as a painter and my solution is that the aim is there within the paintings itself. There’s no blueprint, no system, no making plans. Like a toddler seeking to stroll: Her actions aren’t taught, they only emerge. It’s like that.

Frank Bowling, Penumbral Lite (detail), 2020, acrylic on canvas, 119 7/8 x 72 7/8 x 1 3/4".

I'd additionally say that the new works are color-driven. I used to be very unwell after the massive Tate display in 2019 and after I were given again to paintings, I used to be in particular considering coloration. Colour as a proper self-discipline. Again within the Nineteen Sixties, I used to be in a find out about crew considering coloration science, and I’m nonetheless there, taking a look at what occurs when paint pigments and carriers meet and merge. I’m totally open to new fabrics. I moved from oil paint to acrylic within the Nineteen Sixties, even though I nonetheless use oil for ultimate touches. I used to be the usage of numerous fluorescent paint again within the ’70s, I used to be additionally actually sizzling on spray paint then. I regularly use powder paints, particularly this gold powder that turns blue when it comes into touch with ammonia. And regularly stuff will get chucked into the fabric—it began out with bits of glitz, you realize gown jewellery left round via my stepdaughters, or glitter, sequins, bits of material, bits of garbage from the clinic, stuff mendacity across the studio. I’m doing one thing with Chinese language tea at the moment; the tea leaves themselves produce attention-grabbing textures, and the colour bleeds into the paintings to provide an ochre that I hadn’t noticed prior to.

My paintings is motivated via encountering or uncovering the surprising. It’s like residue, just like the ore that you just get out of the earth. And the purpose is the elegant. However it’s very laborious to search out and even outline. You may well be in search of it, however you'll’t anticipate finding it. You are aware of it whilst you see it. It must be obtrusive, but surprising. The spectacle can also be so unpleasant—repugnant. This is a profound, inarticulate feeling. It creates this feeling of awe; awe made actual! Okwui Enwezor spoke a couple of deeply skeptical imaginative and prescient of the elegant in my paintings, and whilst what I’m pronouncing would possibly now not sound skeptical, you'll be skeptical to your reasoning—when issues are so unreal they wish to be touched. I believe that abstraction continues to be legitimate. It's the foundation upon which my paintings turns. Abstraction passes all of the assessments: It’s automated, it’s chancy, it’s dangerous. It’s according to making an attempt to get the most efficient from not anything.