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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."



Frank Bowling (b. 1936). "Foroseabouquet." 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 35 x 70 inches Courtesy Spanierman Modern
Despite the fact that Frank Bowling is now 78, and subject to the sorts of frailty that many & maybe most seniors fall heir to, he is still going strong. This could be seen at his latest show, “Frank Bowling, O.B. E., RA, at Eighty,” at Spanierman Modern (run extended through June 12).

The 25 paintings on display, many quite sizeable, fill the new Spanierman exhibition space, at 625 West 55th Street, with vigorous harmonies of color, and surprisingly large variations in form. All but two of them were completed in 2013 (the remaining two, “Moby Dick” and “Flow with Chetty, Philadelphia Bound,” were completed in 2012).

In many cases, Bowling appears to be trying to combine his large, free-flowing abstract style of the 70s and 80s with the more brightly colored, subtly allusive “stitch work” of the 90s. This combination is evident where mostly smaller canvases covered with flowing brighter colors are stapled onto framing bands of canvas in contrasting colors.

Two smaller paintings of this type that work very well are “Rushes” and “Donkeydog.” Both are comparatively small canvases. The way that they are hung sets off both to good advantage, as one is predominantly warm colors, and the other, predominantly cool.

“Rushes” (29 x 38 inches) has lots of yellows and gold in the center, with its framing elements purple and red (albeit with just a touch of blue for accent). “Donkeydog” (22 x 27 inches) has a purple frame and a blue field. A mottled thick area in the center bottom has whites and blues, tinged with pink.

Both larger and smaller paintings, in fact, are liable to have paint poured lavishly upon them. Sometimes the effect of thin rivulets is to suggest a huge feather (drawn either vertically or horizontally across the canvas. On other occasions, thicker paint has dried in puddles, leaving a crisply crinkled surface.

The best of the rivulet/feather type of paintings are “Shadow Under” and “Flowwithspencerandracheanne” (both 59” x 74”, both horizontals).

My favorite painting for the whole show fit none of these categories, being a medium-to-larger sized horizontal canvas with paint piled, puddled and slathered on it with a variety of approaches. This picture has yellow underpainting, cheerful reds and oranges slathered on top of the yellow, and some paler greens added for accents. Despite all the confusion promised by this description, the painting is very well organized. It is called “Foroseabouquet” (35 x 70 inches).

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