Catalogue text for Penumbral Light, Frank Bowling, Hauser & Wirth, 2022.
During the year leading up to Frank Bowling’s Summer 2021 exhibition, Land of Many Waters, at Arnolfini international center for contemporary art in Bristol, UK, curator Gemma Brace spoke numerous times, at length, with the artist. Extracts from those discussions and references to Brace’s catalog essay1 have been drawn together here with new reflections on the works in Penumbral Light. All transcripts have been edited by Gemma Brace for the purposes of this publication. In revisiting both paintings and conversations, familiar words began to float back into being.
Water, light, and memory: words that bleed and seep into the next, just as many of Frank Bowling’s works themselves have come into being—dragged from floor to wall and back again, so that the paint from one runs in watery rivulets forming pools upon the surface of the next.
These meanderings form islands upon which to rest Bowling’s words, which slip and slide between the years, grounding the fluidity of conversation in paint and pigment. Their tributaries offer insights into a body of work that, his son Benjamin has suggested, rose “phoenixlike” from the ashes between late 2019 and early 2021.
Viewed at Bowling’s studio in Peacock Yard, London, in September 2020, many of these soaring works were so large that they had to be shown on their sides or heaved up into the modest rafters of the studio’s temporary storage space. Even in the sharp, fluorescent glow of the industrial lights overhead, they still ema- nated a mesmerizing transparency and transportive luminescence, their surfaces stripped back to sparse washes of translucent color layered one over the other, ebbing and flowing like tides against the shore. Surface, light, and color jostled for attention, awash with memo- ries of the past, inviting totemic works—such as Texas Louise (1971), Dog Daze (A to A) (1971), and Barticaborn I (1967)—back into view, with scorched pink and acidic yellows reappearing, no less vibrant for the years that had passed.
At the time, questions began to form about memory and the movement back and forth across the decades; the marks made from spilling, staining, and pouring; the role of the imagination; and always “this place called British Guiana,” which comes swirling back, rising to the surface amidst a distant refrain of “more land than landscape.” Yet, these works seemed more concerned with water and light than land...
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Image: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.