British Painter Frank Bowling’s First Digital Artwork, an Evocative Play on Color, Lights Up London’s Piccadilly Circus

The work is timed for King Charles III's coronation on Saturday and this year's 75th anniversary of Windrush.

Rendering of how Frank Bowling's Arrival (2023) will appear at London's Piccadilly Circus. Photo: © Frank Bowling, courtesy CIRCA.

The renowned British abstract painter Sir Frank Bowling is unveiling his first-ever digital artwork on May 4 in London’s Piccadilly Circus.

At 8:23pm BST, his work, titled Arrival, will flash across the city’s iconic Piccadilly Lights, which usually feature advertisements or brand logos. This will happen every evening at the same time until June 30.

Since 2020, the Cultural Institute of Radical Contemporary Arts (CIRCA) has been using the Piccadilly Lights to broadcast new works of art by celebrated artists so that they can be enjoyed by passersby for free. The organization’s global network of public screens is always growing, and the work will also appear at 8:23pm local time at locations in Berlin, Milan, Seoul, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. A program and map can be found on CIRCA’s website.

Sir Frank Bowling, 2021. Photo by Sacha Bowling.

Sir Frank Bowling, 2021. Photo by Sacha Bowling.

Arrival, is inspired by Bowling’s move from British Guiana (now Guyana) to London in May 1953 when he was just 19. One of his early defining memories is of the citywide celebrations for the late Queen’s coronation on June 2. The exhibition is therefore timed for both the 75th anniversary of Windrush, the boat that carried Caribbean migrants to the U.K. to start a new life, and King Charles III’s coronation on May 6.

The work’s warmly evocative orange, pink, and red tones are the result of crossfading two of Bowling’s celebrated Map Paintings, Texas Louise (1971) and Australia to Africa (1969–70).

I am a painter first and last, but I am always experimenting,” Bowling told Artnet News. “My intention is just to use color and geometry to create something that will hold the viewer’s eye. I am convinced that light comes out of the paint, and that’s what I’m looking for.”

Working on Arrival was an opportunity to use color and light in a totally different way and add something new to the world.”

Bowling had made the original paintings during a stint living in New York, when he became interested in the stenciled map shapes of Guyana, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The shape of these maps became a guiding framework within which to explore color and geometry.

“Thinking about my life moving from South America to London and then to New York, and then years moving back and forth across the Atlantic, referencing these earlier works seemed like the obvious move,” Bowling said. 

“I keep hearing that my work feels relevant right now, but I don’t know. It would be interesting to hear what viewers make of it,” he added. “I remember [Nigerian curator] Okwui Enwezor saying that I started my career as an artist in the ’50s in a moment of global transition, where the world had become an unfixed place. I think there’s a feeling that we are at another moment of transition, of flux, of the possibilities for something new. Perhaps that’s why?”

CIRCA is inviting viewers with a connection to the Windrush Generation to upload photos documenting their own stories onto its website, some of which will be included in a special film screened on the Piccadilly Lights on June 22.

Artists previously commissioned by CIRCA include Douglas Gordon, Caroline Walker, Anne Imhof, Laure Prouvost, Shirin Neshat, Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono, and Vivienne Westwood.

 

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