Frank Bowling, ‘Fishes, Wishes in Summertime Blue’ was at Hales Gallery, London, 8th September to 28th October 2017
Walking into this exhibition one is greeted by a large vertical painting, ‘Pouring over two Morrison Boys and Two Maps II’, on the wall at the far end of the gallery – deliberately placed I would say to draw us into the space. It is eye-catching, arresting and dazzling with its rich array of saturated colour; red, greens, yellows and oranges, yet there is much subtlety to be found alongside these more dominant colours and we are kept interested because there are more revelations each time we look. A web of colour would be a good metaphor – we are fixed and caught, mesmerised, in front of this pulsing canvas as it gradually eats into our senses and swallows us, engulfs us; but it also feeds us. It is made from six canvases glued, stitched and layered. From the two central vertical elements, the left a marbled complexity of yellow, ochre and red with swirls of blue, the right more heavily weighted with various greens drowning the yellows; from all four sides, runs percolate over rich, complex, saturated backdrops, all of which contain combinations of the same colours, but each ‘quarter’ has a different emphasis. The left has red runoffs over mauve and blue underneath the red screenprinted areas; the right has green runs over ochre and red screenprints; at the top, green runs both ways, up from the centre and down from a stained green area that sits horizontally on top of the ochre and orange ground; the lower area, a thin green ground with strong yellow and red patches has runs down only the left hand side. On first viewing, this painting seems to be balanced and symmetrical, but of course the more we look the more the symmetry is destroyed; in the top right by the diagonal green run; the red screenprint on the lower right; the yellow disturbance on the lower left. Bowling is not afraid to set up geometry and then destroy it. Indeed geometry underscores most of the paintings in this exhibition; in some it is more overt than others.
‘Pouring over two Morrison Boys and Two Maps II’ is the centrepiece of the show and I was so drawn by it that I found it difficult to then set about the room in a systematic way, starting at the door and working my way round, and I found myself constantly referring back to this thing of beauty.
As Bowling says in the catalogue, ‘I am on the side of beauty, and beauty doesn’t stop still’… how apposite this is; this exhibition celebrates the way in which Bowling ever presses on, no matter what obstacles are in his way. He keeps reinventing, revisiting and reprocessing what some see as the tired medium of paint on canvas in fresh ways, mining his life, his experiences and the different approaches he has experienced to the work; it all comes together on the walls here. The show includes three of his ‘white paintings’, which are not white at all but a much more subtle use of layered colour; in ‘Ashton’s Swirl I’ and ‘Horsing Around’ visual rhythms are set up by the gel marks and engulfed objects that are rooted in it. The latter is a study in subtlety with its submerged colours and objects drawing us in to explore the scrubbed and stained whitened surface.