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‘Land of many waters'. Paintings by Frank Bowling at the Arnolfini, Bristol.

'An idea of a view'

I’ve just visited the fabulous new exhibition of Frank Bowling paintings, (open until 26th September 2021) comprising a selection of new works and some older abstracts that explores Bowling’s own view of his work that they are more imagination than memory, portaying ’ the idea of a view’ rather than the view itself.

Set within the austere architecture of the Arnolfini it is not unreasonable to say that these large paintings successfully walk the tightrope between making you feel inadequate yet inspired enough to make you want to do better.

In his new works, completed through 2020 while most of us were struggling to understand how the pandemic might affect our own output, Bowling seems to have found a new burst of energy. Paint bleeds, stains and seeps into canvas creating what are clearly imagined landscapes. The canvases seem to let light in and through; surfaces are stripped back simultaneously revealing and concealing, sitting somewhere between paint and wash or land and water.

Alongside these sit older works showing Bowling’s past techniques from his ‘poured’ paintings to vertical ‘zippers’ and paintings where surfaces are embedded with textiles, collage, and found materials so that the acrylic paint is littered and layered with remnants of life. They are wilfully scruffy made of a canvas patchwork with canvas threads and brush hairs and thumb prints and drips left so that we can see the process of making and their exuberance is overwhelming.

A lovely show that I will have to revisit.

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