Crystallised Landscape is one of a series of paintings by Bowen which is closely associated with the rise of Tachisme in Britain during the mid 1950s. This type of abstraction, characterised by dabs or splotches of colour (tache is the French word for spot or blotch), placed great value on the physical act of painting. For some painters the tache was theorised as an existential act, symbolising the freedom of the individual, for others, such as Bowen, it was a manifestation of the collective unconscious and the spiritual. His practice, which was steeped in quasi-Zen philosophy, involved the use of meditation to ‘empty his mind’ of thoughts. Once he had reached a state of ‘hyperconsciousness’, he would build up an image with rapid strokes, splashes and drips, using such unconventional materials as oil paint mixed with sand and household emulsions (Gaskin, p.44). Each picture was produced in one continuous session like Georges Mathieu’s (born 1921) abstract paintings. Bowen knew Mathieu, who had given a televised painting performance at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1956 to mark the opening of his exhibition there.
Fiona Gaskin, ‘British Tachisme in the post-war period, 1946-1957’, in Margaret Garlake, ed. Artists and Patrons in Post-War Britain, London 2001
Peter Davies, Denis Bowen, London and St Ives 2000, p.19, reproduced in colour, p.54
Toby Treves, revised by Heather Birchall