Sir Frank Bowling R.A. (British, born 1934) Potaroway 61 x 109.2 cm. (24 x 43 in.)

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Lot 63AR
Sir Frank Bowling R.A.
(British, born 1934)
Potaroway 61 x 109.2 cm. (24 x 43 in.)

Sold for £ 237,750 (US$ 324,252) inc. premium
Sir Frank Bowling R.A. (British, born 1934)
signed twice, inscribed and dated 'FRANK/BOWLING/"POTAROWAY"-1975/FRANKBOWLING/FOR THE/CHELSEA ARTS CLUB' (verso)
acrylic on canvas
61 x 109.2 cm. (24 x 43 in.)


  • Provenance
    Sale; Sotheby's, London, The Chelsea Arts Club Auction, 24 October 1988, lot 82, where purchased by the present owner
    Private Collection, U.K.

    Born in what was then British Guyana in 1934, Frank Bowling moved to London aged 19 and after a few years was accepted to study at the Royal College of Art. There he became part of the fabled generation of students (enrolled 1959-1962) whose emergence announced a shift in the prevailing fashion from fifties abstraction to sixties pop. His fellow students included Derek Boshier, Pauline Boty, David Hockney, Allen Jones, R.B. Kitaj and Peter Phillips. Bowling achieved success rapidly with a solo exhibition mounted at the Grabowski Gallery the year he graduated, from which the Arts Council purchased the canvas Birthday (1962), and he was subsequently selected for inclusion in the era-defining photobook Private-View compiled by Bryan Robertson and John Russell in 1965.

    Throughout the late 1960s his work embraced a hard-edged pop aesthetic in which dazzling slabs of colour fuse with text, pin-up and screen-printed imagery. Yet Bowling yearned for development. He had first visited New York in 1964 where he met Jasper Johns and Larry Rivers and two years later he relocated to the city. There he quickly began exhibiting with Terry Dintenfass, and before long received the Guggenheim fellowship, allowing him to take a large studio in SoHo. His immersion in New York's colour field painting gave rise to his highly regarded 'Maps' series (1966-1971) in which Bowling combined his by then abstract approach with political and personal concerns. Massive in scale (some span more than 6 meters) they present forms representative of continents, hovering in front of shimmering fields of stained colour. These works featured prominently in his first solo institutional show, staged at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971 (when Bowling was aged 37), to much acclaim.

    Ever the progressive, his practice developed further in 1973 when he first developed his 'poured' painting method. In his studio Bowling built a wooden platform on which a canvas would be supported. This could then be tilted to allow for the paint, poured from a height, to run down the canvas in a controlled manner. Whilst managing the palette to some extent, this technique purposefully allowed for an element of automatism to enter his work. Curator of the recent and highly celebrated Tate retrospective, Elana Crippa, elaborates; "Bowling's was the pursuit of an organic interplay between line and medium, so that structure would not be imposed on the unruly plasticity of paint, but found and adopted through the process of making" (Elana Crippa, Frank Bowling,, Tate Publishing, London, 2019, p.51). This process encapsulates Bowling's fascination with challenging the accepted conventions of painting, which can be traced right from his early works through to his present practice.

    In 1975, the year the present work was painted, Bowling returned to London which would act as his primary base for the next fifteen years. Working at first from a studio above St. Anselm's Church in Kennington, he continued to develop his 'poured' paintings. Whilst the 'Maps' series that immediately proceeded them addressed Bowling's global concerns, the poured paintings from the mid-70s are arguably more personal. Many derive their title from Guyanese locations such as the present example which takes its name from the Potaro, the vast river which winds its way 140 miles east from its source at Mount Ayanganna. Similarly, the Government Art Collection's Kaieteurtoo (1975) titled after the famous waterfall situated on the Potaro, and Bartica Bressary (1978-9, Private Collection) named after Bowling's birth town.

    Seen here in public for the first time since its acquisition in 1988, Potaroway is charmingly unusual among these pictures for several reasons. The execution appears to have been relatively slow, resulting in a rich and viscus marbling and pooling of paint, rather than the quick and energetic waterfall effect seen in Kaieteurtoo. Bowling has adopted a horizontal composition rather than his more common vertical format. As such a landscape emerges from his action led process. Mark-making along the two strips of land-toned pigment suggest a far and near shoreline, the abundance of cloud-white at the top recalls the sky, reflected in the central passage of the gentle and powerful Potaro river. The overall result makes for an epic, yet placid vista. For Bowling this engagement proved successful and river subjects feature heavily in his works of the following decade, notably his 'Great Thames' series of the late 1980s.

    In 1987 Bowling made history as the first artist of afro-Caribbean descent to have their work enter the Tate Collection and again in 2005 when he was elected the first black Royal Academician in the institution's history. Sir Frank Bowling was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's birthday honours, 2020, aged 86.
Sir Frank Bowling R.A. (British, born 1934) Potaroway 61 x 109.2 cm. (24 x 43 in.)
Sir Frank Bowling R.A. (British, born 1934) Potaroway 61 x 109.2 cm. (24 x 43 in.)
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