Frank Bowling (British, born British Guyana, 1936)
Mother Approaching Sixty
Photo etching, soft-ground, and spit-bite aquatint on paper
34 3/4 x 30 1/2 inches
Edition of 40. Published by Brodsky Center, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Collaborating Master Printer: Randy Hemminghaus.

Frank Bowling

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Trained in European informel (formless expression), in the late 1950s, in London, and then in American abstract expressionism, in the 1960s, in New York, Frank Bowling has worked exclusively as an abstract painter since 1972.  Gestural expression and a mix-media process confer on his paintings a compelling magmatic quality.  Combining formal artistic language and his personal cultural background, Bowling explores his African diasporic identity. 

Mother Approaching Sixty is the artist’s sole photographic work and figurative portrait of his mature career.  Figuration had appeared in his paintings of the late 1960s, in the form of stencils of Africa, South America, and his mother’s home, in Guyana. The titles the artist typically assigns his abstract paintings also imply memories of friends, places, objects, and allude as well to the natural world. 

The neatly drawn circular trace overlaid on the portrait appears first in a 1983 painting entitled Sand Circle, and again in a series begun in 2000, evoking the sunset or dawn.  In addition, a sharp line crossing the entire picture plane in Bowling’s paintings references abstract expressionist artist Barnett Newman’s “zip” motif, and conjures the horizon and, at once, the liminal zone where figure and ground, and artwork and viewer converge.

Through photographic and printmaking processes, this powerful close-up of the artist’s still-youthful mother, smiling, at life’s long sunset, is rendered through variation in tones and colors that emphasize her face as color, volume, and surface. 

The print was made in collaboration with Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art, in Newark, New Jersey, which staged a one-person exhibition of Bowling’s work in 2003.