Small Paintings: Cosmic Glimpses
Frank Bowling’s paintings offer a vision of a universe of his own imagining. They are images of an energetic chaos in which the mineral phenomena of fire and water, air and earth are caught in the very process of generation; out of this elemental and undifferentiated energy emerge the ever-changing morphologies of flame and light-fall, waterfall and cloud, rainbow, rain and the mists of aerial weathers. In this cosmos of atmospheric or aqueous colour-light may be discerned, with the shock of familiarity, the vegetable forms of tree, bush, leaf and flower; the rough surfaces of earth; the evanescent shimmer, shadow and flash of sunlit mudflat, forest clearing, flowing river; the tactility of animal scale and skin.
The powerful object-presence of Bowling’s paintings (whatever their scale) derives from the artful actuality of their facture, and this is true of all his work since the mid-1970s, when the beautiful and utterly distinctive ‘poured paintings’ now on show at Tate Britain were made. From that time on Bowling’s work has consisted in a kind of collaboration with materials and time. The materials are mineral: diverse pigments and unconventional media, acrylic gels and chemical solvents, whose dynamic admixtures and interactions have unpredictable but managed outcomes. Time is necessary to the creative combination of ingenious aleatory procedures and natural processes. With Bowling’s attentive assistance the paintings make themselves; are themselves instances of the phenomena they picture.
But in what does this creative assistance consist? To the daily practice of painting the artist brings twin intensities of memory and desire. Memory of a life lived in diverse places: his birthplace and its landscapes of river, coastal flats, forest and seacoast, with a mother gifted in the skillful artistry of milliner and dressmaker; London with the great Thames a constant presence, and the conversation and critical insight of artist friends; New York, at first in SoHo among disputatious and competitive colleagues, and later in creative solitude looking over the shining East River; Skowhegan, Maine, among green fields, woods and streams, where he was reminded of his great predecessors Constable and Turner. Above all, art and its histories, European and American, have been central to this actively imaginative recollection of things past. These small works have their own small grandeur; they are glimpses of the cosmos.
Mel Gooding, 2012
Frank Bowling is represented by and shows courtesy of Hales Gallery, London. An exhibition of his recent large paintings is currently on show at 7 Bethnal Green Road, E1 7LA.