The Guyana-born artist, Sir Frank Bowling, who has lived in London since the 1950s, has been knighted in this year’s Birthday Honours List, conferred by Her Majesty the Queen.
Bowling was made an Honorary Fellow by Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) in 2006, and has been knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020 for his contribution to the canon of contemporary and modern art.
After moving to London at the age of 19 in an attempt to become a poet, the large-scale abstract artist soon found himself joining the Royal Air Force, where very significantly, he met fellow artist and Professor of Architecture the late Keith Critchlow, who welcomed the eager young artist to London’s eclectic art scene.
Continually progressing his focus, Sir Frank then moved from early purely figurative elements, inspired by the work of Francis Bacon, to paint-on-canvas, in a move determined to thwart notions of formalism popularised by American art critic Clement Greenberg, who argued that painting could not be “three-dimensional, representational or dramatic outside its own material.”
Bowling, whose work was the subject of a major exhibition at the Tate Gallery last year, spoke to university staff, students and visitors in 2008 ahead of the Frank Bowling: Big Paintings exhibition at AUB, welcoming the emergence of budding new artists, works and talent at the institution.
The artist has continually refused to be typecast and has addressed debate around black art and its designation as such in Arts Journal Third Text: “As defined during the late ‘60s, the declared positions of many black American artists perpetually left me with a certain discouraging confusion.”
“Black Art, as an ideal, is very much with us. Any age alert to evolutionary or revolutionary forces that stretch possibilities, brings with it painful scholarship bracing in a wind-of-change challenge.”
Speaking about his own extensive contribution to contemporary art, Sir Frank said: “I’ve set out on a quest to explore the possibilities of paint, and I find myself making something new every time. I have an insatiable determination to experiment with colour, form and process, to create new and original artworks that push the boundaries of the medium, while being intellectually grounded in post-war abstraction.
“To be recognised for my contribution to British painting and art history with a knighthood makes me extremely proud. Friends and family have played a role in my studio since the 1960s – as a husband, father, grandfather and recently a great-grandfather, I am honoured to sit at the centre of a modern family to whom I feel much gratitude.”
A piece painted by the 86-year-old artist currently resides at the university, which hosts a number of art events in TheGallery art space, with exhibitions by established artists like Morag Myerscough and Brian Clarke, alumnus architect Professor Sir Peter Cook, and photographer Karen Fuchs.
Professor Paul Gough, Vice Chancellor at AUB, said: “This is a welcome and timely recognition for a remarkable artist. Sir Frank is revered by the students and staff at AUB. We awarded him an Honorary Fellowship in 2006 and he has maintained a relationship ever since, made even more memorable by his exhibition of work in the AUB's TheGallery art space in 2008.
He added: "I had the privilege of meeting him when I studied in London and will never forget the passion and energy of his abstract paintings and his command of colour. We are all really delighted for him.”