Frank Bowling, Spreadout Ron Kitaj, 1984-86
90 x 112.75 in.
Frank Bowling (b. 1936) is a British artist who is a major figure in post-war British art. Born in Guyana, his father was a police administrator and his mother was a seamstress. At age fifteen, he moved to England to live with an uncle and finish his education. After serving in the Royal Air Force, Bowling attended the Chelsea School of Art before being awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where his fellow students included major artists like David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj, with whom Bowling was particularly close. Upon graduation, Hockney was given the gold medal, and Bowling the silver. (Bowling was actually set to take the gold, but a controversial marriage to Royal College Registrar Paddy Kitchen damaged his reputation and pushed him to silver.) Bowling started in figurative painting, before embarking on his well known map paintings, some of which incorporate elements of abstraction. In one member of the series, he mocks celebrated Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman with 1968's Who's Afraid of Barney Newman. Bowling moved on to pure abstraction, creating great explorations of shape and color. Bowling's continues to examine these issues in his most recent works. Spreadout Ron Kitaj uses mixed media, including oil paints, beeswax, chalk, glitter, acryllic foam, shredded packing materials, oyster shells, broken plastic toys, and metallic pigments (nickel, silver, gold, and pearlessence). Bowling was inspired by a Caribbean song he heard on the radio, after receiving a lengthy and kind letter from Kitaj, with whom Bowling had fallen out of touch. The ecstatic color and thick texture of the painting, along with its large size create an impressive and effective piece. Bowling believed in the expressivity of paint alone, without the need for figuration. This painting is an example of the great power and intensity that Bowling expresses in his work over the course of his long career.