Alexander Gray Associates in New York will now represent Frank Bowling, the Guyanese-born, London-based painter whose works have synthesized the formalist language of pure abstraction with political themes. He is also currently represented by Hales Gallery, which is based in London.
Bowling has long been associated with a circle of black abstractionists, among them Sam Gilliam and the late Jack Whitten, whose work also rigorously expanded the idea of what could painting could be. In their work, they combined their painterly innovations with aspects of their own identities, creating political riffs on what their Abstract Expressionist forerunners had already engineered. “One’s identity is never separated from one’s art,” Alexander Gray said in an interview. “The intention of Frank and, I think, other artists of his circle was never to have painting as a place that was separate from identity or politics.”
Part of Bowling’s project has been to question the meaning of the term “black art,” and to offer a style that alluded to Afro-Caribbean histories as well as African-American ones. Partly, this was accomplished through criticism—Bowling has often written about work by black artists and abstraction, and even was briefly an editor at the now-defunct Arts Magazine. (For the April 1971 issue of ARTnews, Bowling wrote an essay called “It’s Not Enough to Say ‘Black Is Beautiful.’ ”) “He was the artist in this circle who was the writer,” Gray said. “There’s an art-historical, critical rigor that is a real hallmark for him.”
Bowling is perhaps most famous for his “Map” paintings, which were first shown at the Whitney Museum in 1971 and were met with critical acclaim from many, including Clement Greenberg. The works took the form of large color fields that, upon a close look, had the outlines of continents painted on top of them. Bowling once said that they “decolonize space in order to construct new commentaries around the narratives in the tradition of Western painting.” From there, Bowling went on to create a series of poured works and a canvases made by building up layers of paint.
The news of his new gallery representation comes on the heels of a Bowling retrospective at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, which will travel later this year to the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Sharjah Art Foundation. His work was also included in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which debuted at Tate Britain last year and will come to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum this year. Gray has planned its first Bowling show for September, ahead of a Tate Britain survey slated for 2019.