Frank Bowling: From Figuration to Abstraction

Watch the artist talk about how he changed his approach to painting

Artist Frank Bowling studied painting at the Royal College of Art with David Hockney and Derek Boshier.

In this film, Bowling looks back over his long career. He talks about how his shift from figuration to abstraction came when he moved from London to New York.


In my youth I tended to look at the tragic side of human behaviour and try and reflect that in my work, but gradually as I became more involved in the making of paintings, I realised that one of the main ingredients in making paintings was colour and geometry. And I found that this was the place that I felt the most comfortable. I have been going along that track ever since.

At about the time that I left to go and live in New York, the concerns with colour deepened, and in New York I found ways of proceeding to deepen my investigations in that area. And what I found in New York made me feel that this was a place where the energy and the drive was. And then, by sheer chance, the map shapes appeared whilst I was in Hotel Chelsea so I started painting maps of South America and Guyana, and then I decided that I would do the entire flat map as a motif to work with. I just found the shapes and graphics suggested in maps very engaging.

From there I moved towards making a kind of colour field geometrical colour painting, which was before the poured painting.

New York was very much the place where it was all happening, and Pouring was just one aspect. It was spilling, dripping, rushing... It’s a process of a ground all over, the canvas tacked to the wall, the pouring and throwing and spilling and dripping takes place, then the material is allowed to settle, and once it starts drying you sort of pull it back up the wall, so that it can be completely dried out.

It all happens very much in an extempore way. You know, I mean, I don’t have any pre-planned idea about how I’m going to make a painting.

The whole thing about naming of works of my friends has always been with me. It’s kind of like keeping a diary. I’m reminded by the naming of lives spent intensely, sometimes joyously, but you know, just lived, and the naming is really to do...it was a kind of diary that when I go back I can, not so much relive the experience, but have the tremor of knowing that that experience existed.

End of recording

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