Frank Bowling and Aubrey Williams, Two Guyanan Greats
We have been fortunate enough to be selling paintings by the two Guyana greats, Frank Bowling and Aubrey Williams in our 14 December 2020 auction. Guyana has not been known for its famous artists, but all has changed with the recognition in the art world of Aubrey Williams and Frank Bowling.
Frank Bowling, born 1934
Bowling, Richard Sheridan Patrick Michael Franklin (Frank), born 1934, came to England as a young man aged 19. He was soon settled into the English way of life but had to undergo National Service, which he did with the RAF. While there he made friends with Keith Critchlow, an aspiring artist. Critchlow took Frank to the National Gallery, a visit which was very important for Frank. ‘I was very struck by the British painters like Constable, Turner and Gainsborough, whose marvellous touch I was very engaged by’. Much later he was to bring back the influences of Turner and Constable, when he was an abstract painter. Bowling attended several art colleges in London before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he was lucky enough to have fellow students like David Hockney and Peter Blake. At the end of his studies he was considered a strong candidate for winning the gold medal but sadly he caused a little concern by marrying Paddy Kitchen, the registrar - students were not allowed to mix with staff. In the post graduation honours, Hockney won the gold and Frank the silver. In fact Frank’s activity with women was considrable. During the years 1962 to 1964 he manged to sire three boys with three different women.
Frank was soon underway with exhibitions and developing his work towards abstraction. He divorced his wife in 1966 and decided to move to New York. He stayed at the Chelsea Hotel in New York joining other artists like Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko. These artists were an inspiration for him to develop further his move to abstraction. In 1975 he retuned to London, where he met Nancy and her husband and family in the pub they managed. He taught at Camberwell and Byam Dhaw. For the rest of his life Frank has divided the year between New York and London, winning election as an RA in 2005 and being awarded an OBE for services to art in 2008. Last year the Tate honoured him with a major exhibition. His work is highly sought after and makes consderable amounts of money. Two paintings at Christies last year made £370,000 and £570,000. What an achievement by a young man with nothing, finding his way over the years in England and America to reach such a pinnacle.
Bowling, Richard Sheridan Patrick Michael Franklin (Frank), born 1934, Guyanan, Abstract. 9.25 x 15.25 inches, Acrylic on Card on Canvas. Verso: Inscribed by Frank, 'Blowing towards England. For Nancy and the grandchildren, as ever. FB.’ Frank was godfather to Simon, the youngest grandchild. Nancy and her then husband managed a pub in West London where she came to know Frank. Her husband died, she then married the vendor some forty years ago, but died herself in the recent past. Her husband has had the painting hanging in his flat until he asked us to sell it. The provenance for the painting is excellent.
Estimate: £10,000 to £15,000
Aubrey Williams 1926-1991
Aubrey also left Guyana as a young man hoping to make a success as an artist in England. Aubrey attended a university for a while but gave up and went travelling around the UK and Europe meeting Camus and Picasso on his travels. He was not too impessed by Picasso, who only wanted to paint his portrait, not discuss any art. He worked for the famous Waddington Gallery in Cork Street as an assistant framer. While there he met a number of young leading painters like Lanyon and Hilton, thus introducing him to abstraction. The biggest turning point in his life was his meeting with Dennis Bowen, who started the New Vision Gallery promoting abstract art. From 1951 to 1966 Aubrey was indebted to Dennis for support and exhibitions. It was a very fruitful time for him producing some excellent paintings, including Dying Volcano. In 1966 Aubrey started the Carribean Artists Movement made up of intellectuals and artists organising various events and exhibitions.
In 1970 Aubrey moved to Florida, Jamaica and Guyana to further develop his painting in the brighter light afforded by those places, he did not go to Guyana that often, but retained a keen interest in pre-Columbian art which he tried to revive. He held a major exihbition at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1989. While watching a spy film on TV, my favourite type of drama, the main characters were wandering around a gallery, the Whitechapel. Goodness gracious, the pictures on the walls are by Aubrey, I exclaimed. Indeed his works were being shown at the Whitechapel Gallery. Sadly his last years were not so fruitful, but the October Gallery has valiantly supported his art through thick and thin and holds many of his paintings.
I knew Eve, Aubrey’s widow, at the time. She used to invite me to her flat to discuss Aubrey’s work and asked me to promote it. Her flat was full of his paintings at the time. Unfortunately there were a great number of bird paintings, which are not at all interesting. I was constantly being pestered by Eve to buy some birds – no chance. Unfortunately I could not afford the real paintings. She asked me to write a book about Aubrey and showed me a video of him painting. Sadly my memory of the video was a man talking very interestingly about his paintings, but almost invisible from all the smoke he was managing to extract from his cigarettes. I am afraid they were to kill him with lung cancer. It is so good to see that Aubrey’s work has become wanted again and it hopefully will reach the levels it deserves.
Aubrey Williams 1926-1991Guyanan, The Dying Volcano. 36 x 40 inches, Oil on Canvas, Signed and Dated 1964, Titled, Signed and Dated 1964 verso. The sixties were in many ways Aubrey’s best period when he produced a number of excellent paintings. His search for raising awareness of pre-Columbian art introduced some novel ideas in his painting, but they can be difficult for the viewer. He started life in London as a young painter looking to improve his art and discover what good painters were doing. He started his career as a framer with the Waddington Gallery, where he came into contact with some of the best young British artists such as Lanyon and Hilton. He realised that Abstraction was the way forward for him. He was very successful gaining good exhibitions, including the Hayward Gallery in London, but gradually his exhibitions started to fade away as he developed his painting to reincarnate pre-Columbian art of South America, which people found difficult, but is admired now. He is a very good and interesting artist.
Estimate: £10,000 to £15,000