Frank Bowling, the distinguished Guyanese artist, was last week nominated to receive the award of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
The award brings recognition to a man whose body of work is phenomenal, yet unknown to many in his native land.
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry established on June 4, 1917 by King George V. The Order includes five classes in civil and military divisions, and the award designated for Bowling ranks fourth in line in the order of seniority.
Bowling, 71, is considered one of the most distinguished Black artists to emerge from post-war British schools and the first Black artist to become a member of the Royal Academy. He was elected as a member of England’s Royal Academy of Art, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, on May 26, 2005. Mr. Bowling was among about a dozen artists proposed to fill one of two vacancies in the eighty-member academy, and is the first Black British artist elected a Royal Academician in the over two hundred year existence of that institution. An abstract painter, he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1962, and has since the mid 60s spent part of each year between London and New York where he maintained studios.
Mr. Bowling’s paintings have been and continue to be exhibited in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States and are included in important private and corporate collections worldwide, in addition to the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Tate Gallery in London.
Born in 1936 in British Guiana, Bowling left in 1950 for London. He won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in 1959 and graduated in 1962 with both a Silver Medal in Painting and a travel scholarship which took him to South America and the Caribbean.
He was a contributing editor at Arts Magazine from 1969 to 1972 and held teaching positions at many institutions, including lectureships at the University of Reading and Columbia University.
According to the Royal Academy, Bowling’s early work was figurative and often described as expressionist. In the mid 1960s Bowling’s paintings became more geometric. He moved to New York in 1966 and his work became overtly abstract as he began to concentrate on purely pictorial issues relating to colour and composition.
This transition from figuration to abstraction was accompanied by new working methods.
Bowling’s paintings became larger and he abandoned the easel, often pinning his canvasses to his studio walls or floor. Bowling was a leading Colour Field painter and colour dominated his work in the 1970s. The earthier hues of his figurative palette gave way to an exploration of high-key and lyrical colour.
Spontaneity and chance became important working methods in the mid to late 1970s and Bowling began referring to his work as ‘poured paintings’. Bowling’s recent work utilises a full range of colour and is marked by the artist’s periods of often intense experimentation with surface texture. Bowling maintains working studios in London and New York
“As a painter, one soon discovers that art comes out of and feeds off art; thus, much of what is being painted is ancestor worship of one sort or another,” Bowling says in one of his writings.