Chroma chameleon: The bright essence of Frank Bowling's paintings floods his London home

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

If you visit Tate Britain, you might find yourself in a single-room exhibition showing a single facet of the artist Frank Bowling's work. This is a "Focus" gallery, and it is filled with the abstract expressionist's "Poured" paintings: gorgeous, colourful, flowing things created in the 1970s by pouring paint on canvasses in multiple layers, letting it slide and stream, pool and puddle.

The show is almost an artistic homecoming for the 76-year-old: he lives just around the corner, in the Pimlico flat he has owned since 1984, with his wife, the textile artist Rachel Scott. The Tate k has long been an important place for Bowling: "In the early years I rather fancied living in this neighbourhood," he explains. "As a younger artist I used to go in almost every day."

Born in Guyana, he moved to the UK in his teens. While serving in the RAF, he met Keith Critchlow, an expert in geometrical patterns. Through him, Bowling became interested in drawing, and began studying at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 1962 with the silver medal (David Hockney nabbed gold).

For most of his career, Bowling divided his time between London and New York. "I had a lot of problems when I was younger, being pigeonholed," he says. "London tended to remember only the fact I was a 'black artist'. I got pretty fed up and turned off by it. It was choking me." Bowling would go on to become the first black Royal Academician, but he was resistant to the 1960s pressure to market his work as "negro art". He'd visited the US, and "met Larry Rivers, and his friend Frank O'Hara, and they said, 'Why are you staying in London? They're killing you. Come and live in New York.' So I went. They set it up that I would live in the Hotel Chelsea – and it was the most jumping place."

The "humming" downtown scene had an explosive impact on Bowling's work, and he began moving towards abstract expressionism, playing with colour, surface, materials. But Bowling had left behind his first wife (Paddy Kitchen, a Royal College member of staff while he was a student) and their sons in the UK. "I had to know what was going on with the kids, so I kept coming back. It was bumpy, but very invigorating."

He may not be dashing back and forth so much these days – his health means he makes it over to the US only for shows – but life has never been busier. There are no fewer than six solo exhibitions of his work this year, and he features in the V&A's British Design 1948-2012 and Tate Britain's Migrations.

"I didn't expect it to wear me out, but it has," he says of all the fanfare. "I didn't expect it would, because I get up and the first thing I want to do is work." Bowling still has a studio space in Elephant and Castle. "I spend two hours in the studio in the morning and sometimes two hours in the afternoon, and my head is going round and round with what I'm trying to do – often I bring stuff home."

Indeed, scattered on the floor of his home are new works, drying. He jokes that he has to be careful not to get paint on the rugs – but Scott good-naturedly insists, "It's part of their history really. They actually have quite a lot of paint on them," even though the rugs are the work of her own two hands.

The pair moved in together in the late-1980s. She was also "an obsessive painter", but when a stairway rug began to wear out, she made a replacement, taking weekend courses on spinning and tapestry weaving, and found her calling.

Scott uses the neutral, natural shades of traditional British wool, but when it comes to making things for her husband, she goes all out with colour. She knitted the stripey cover on his chair, a patchwork of rectangles made up of 52 different colours; it's now 25 years old. Scott also sewed their patchwork bedspread – and some 40 dresses ("I so hate shopping!").

If his wife literally wears her life on her sleeve, Bowling works in quite a different way: his art has always gone in phases. He experiments with a technique, immerses himself in it, then moves on. But have the flurry of recent shows reminded him of ways of working that he might want to revisit?

"Absolutely. An awful lot of what I'm trying to do now is revisit areas that I had raced through." he says. So are his current works "Bowling best ofs"? "I see potential in some of the stuff I did, like with the pours, and especially colour: I'm digging deeper and deeper." Witness his recent works hung over the fireplace, fizzing with crimson, pink and orange, or the candy-coloured pieces the couple stand in front of in his studio. He may slow down as he gets older, but there's no plans to turn down the brightness.

'Recent Small Works' is at Eleven Spitalfields, London E1 (elevenspitalfields.com) to 31 August. Poured Paintings is at Tate Britain, London SW1 (tate.org.uk), to 31 March

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas