Summary

Red and Black is an early example of serigraphy, also known as silkscreen printing. The appeal of this new technique for artists who attached great importance to spontaneity lay in the speed and freedom with which images could be made. With more traditional techniques spontaneity tended to be compromised by the laborious methods involved. In addition Peter Davies notes that ‘The fine weave of the screen allowed intriguing half-tone effects that an abstract artist enjoyed for purely textural rather than descriptive ends’ (Davies, p.15). 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).

Red and Black is part of the Flying City Series, a title Bowen gave to a number of pictures that shared the central motif of a broad horizontal stripe intersected by vertical lines. According to Bowen, the title was given retrospectively. The print was made at John Coplans’s (born 1920) studio in Swiss Cottage in North London. Bowen was one of a number of artists, including Alan Davie (born 1920) and William Turnbull (born 1922), who collaborated with Coplans and began to experiment with new techniques in printmaking. This print was included in Serigraphs, an exhibition held in the library of the Institute of Contemporary Arts during December 1956. Davie and Turnbull were also amongst the exhibitors.

Further reading:
Peter Davies, Denis Bowen, London and St Ives 2000, p.15, reproduced in colour, p.47

Toby Treves, revised by Heather Birchall
October 2002