Review by Emily Sack, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.
Six years after being elected a Royal Academician, Frank Bowling remains an integral figure in the London contemporary art world. With the current exhibition entitled Crossings: From New Amsterdam, Berbice to New Amsterdam, New York via Holland and London, ROLLO Contemporary Art explores the artist’s recent works. Using acrylic on canvas with a frequent inclusion of found materials, Bowling’s work displays such an intense impasto that the paintings become almost as three-dimensional as sculpture. It is difficult to resist running a hand across the surface to explore the differences in texture between the rough canvas and the heavily layered paint.
Bowling uses colour and form in a style reminiscent of the Abstract Expressionists. The exhibition contains two main categories of paintings – one series employs splattered paint application and the other includes a strong vertical or horizontal line as the primary feature of the work. Chance may appear to be the fundamental consideration in the production of these paintings; however, the artist includes several important clues as to the careful planning behind the deceptively spontaneous work. For instance, the majority of the work in this exhibition is not on a single canvas. Bowling hand stitches pieces of canvas as a frame around the traditional stretched canvas. This artificial frame features different colours than the rainbow palette of the centre canvas. The selection of at times quite acrid colours prevents the viewer from passively viewing the work – it becomes essential to visually dissect the layers of paint to unravel the artist’s process.
The linearly oriented paintings present an interesting counterpoint to the spontaneity of the previously discussed works. The majority of the canvas is covered in a thin layer of pigment that is interrupted by the robust application of paint. The demarcation of the canvas into two separate hemispheres creates a profound tension and confusion of meaning. Does the line represent a division of space with a barrier (natural or artificial)? Or rather is it a tunnel or bridge from one pole to the other?
The questions of geography and visual comparisons to topography arise in tandem with the titles Bowling attaches to the works. Some titles refer to specific, though not always identifiable, locations such as Thicket, Crossings: Eastwesttunnel, Crossing’s: Snakesheadpassage, or Crossings: Jonathan’s Manhattan. These descriptive titles do not always relate obviously to the painting, but inspire curiosity in the viewer as to the artist’s perception of the space. It is natural that journeys and location play such a significant role in the artist’s work. As a native of British Guiana, Bowling moved to London as a young adult to pursue his artistic education, and since has travelled between his two primary locations of London and New York.
The title of the exhibition at ROLLO emphasizes this theme by highlighting the images in the Crossings series. Additionally, opening at the end of the month, works on paper by Frank Bowling will be on display at the Royal Academy in the Tennant Gallery in an exhibition titled Journeyings from 27 May – 23 October.
Crossings: From New Amsterdam, Berbice to New Amsterdam, New York via Holland and London is on show at ROLLO Contemporary Art until 1 July.
Barney’sboon, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 28 x 32 inches
Courtesy the artist and ROLLO Contemporary Art