Over a long and varied career, the evolution of Bowling’s work can be seen as a reflection of a major evolution in painting throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Coming out of the fertile grounds of the Royal College of Art in the mid 1960s Bowling, along with contemporaries like David Hockney and Ron Kitaj, exhibited widely in London and the UK, garnering acclaim for ambitious early works such as The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and Big Bird. Though previously not as widely celebrated as some of those friends and contemporaries, Bowling is now considered an essential figure in the discourse around art, identity and post-colonialism.
Named for one of Bowling’s celebrated ‘map’ paintings, Mappa Mundi highlights exceptional works from throughout Bowling’s career from the 1960s onwards. Through his ‘map’ paintings Bowling addresses issues of history and migration, both his own as a Commonwealth immigrant to the UK and latterly the United States, and broader mass movements of people, from colonial slaves through the ‘Middle Passage’ from Africa to South America, to socio-economic motivated migration. Bowling’s work on geographic and human movement has special relevance in a time where discussion of national borders and immigration has never been more urgent.
The decisive moment of Bowling’s artistic development was his move to New York in 1966. Bowling’s painterly experimentation had led him to consider how abstract painting could be invested with social, cultural, and personal meaning without losing the essential and formal principles of painting. This lead him to move away from relatively straightforward figurative representation into more abstract work concerned with questions of form and colour. In the post-war period New York had produced abstract painting of a certain scale and ambition, and this context, along with the size of Bowling’s New York studio, allowed him to work on the larger, often monumental scale works on view at IMMA.
Over the last 50 years Bowling has exhibited, written, taught and curated widely in the United States and the UK. A recipient of multiple Guggenheim Fellowships and other awards, he also received consistently favourable reviews for, among others, his solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum, New York (1971) and the Serpentine Gallery, London (1986).
This exhibition at IMMA showcases Bowling’s work from throughout his career, covering the major developments within his practice. Also included is selected material from the Frank Bowling archive, and several films featuring footage and interviews with the artist, including a specially created documentary featuring Frank Bowling in conversation about Ireland and Dublin and their influence on his work with Rachael Thomas, Head of Exhibitions, IMMA.
Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi rightly identifies Bowling as a major figure in painting of the last 50 years. Alongside such milestones as being the first black artist elected to the Royal Academy (2005), the first black British artist to have work acquired by the Tate (Spreadout Ron Kitaj, 194-86, acquired 1987), and being appointed an Officer of the British Empire (2008), Bowling continues to produce ambitious and complex work today.
The exhibition is organised by Haus der Kunst, Munich in association with IMMA and Sharjah Art Foundation.