Making the paint dance

In this interview for the Government Art Collection’s podcast series, artist Frank Bowling RA discusses the influences on his painting in the Collection, including the landscape of Guyana and 1960s Abstract Expressionism.


© Crown Copyright

  • Select Image
  • Select Image

In ‘Kaieteurtoo’ (1975) (image 2), from the ‘Poured Paintings’ series, a rush of mainly green lines runs vertically down the centre of the canvas. Kaieteur Falls, a waterfall that plunges into the Potaro River in central Guyana, is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. Frank Bowling was born in British Guyana and this work, like many of his atmospheric, joyous paintings, references the tropical paradise of his childhood as a place never far from water: ‘Guyana is where I was born, and the name of the place is the land of waters, everywhere you go in Guyana there is water’, remarked Bowling in 1995.

To achieve this sense of a downpour, the artist Bowling set up his canvas at a 45 degree angle on trestle table, and poured paint from the top of the canvas allowing the colours to flow and fuse freely. Bowling pioneered this method of creating abstract, atmospheric paintings in 1970s. His concern is with the materiality of painting and in particular the way that form and colour interact to create a tactile, sensuous presence on the surface of the work. Bowling mixes acrylic paint in jam jars, the lids of which, along with other discarded objects, sometimes find their way on to the canvas.

Frank Bowling was born in Bartica, British Guyana in 1936. It was in London in 1953 that Bowling, as a teenager doing his national service, felt he first ‘discovered art’. He studied first at Regent Street Polytechnic, and then went on to the Royal College of Art, graduating in 1962. Since the 1960s he has divided his time between London and New York, maintaining a studio in each city.  Since 2000 Bowling has had many solo exhibitions in the Unites States, principally in New York, Detroit and Chicago. His solo exhibition in London in 2006 at Rollo Contemporary Art was a celebration of his election to the RA. His work is included in many major public collections including the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate, London.