Frank Bowling’s Forgotten Painting

Last year, Polish Rebecca was uncovered in the depths of an attic outside of London—a hiding place it had maintained for 42 years. Removed from its stretchers, the immense 9-by-11-foot painting had been neatly rolled, tucked away, and forgotten by its creator, Frank Bowling, only to be rediscovered in his 79th year.

In 1971, the Guyana-born Bowling was busy at work in his New York loft studio, using a projector to create stencils for large-scale paintings (like Polish Rebecca). As part of an initiative for better representation of black artists and curators, Bowling’s painting was included in a series of exhibitions at the Whitney Museum; as a South American, Bowling represented a compelling aspect of the cultural diaspora.

Ironically, the painting’s large size may have contributed to its misplacement. “Paintings of this size, you just cannot store them,” said Stuart Morrison, the director of Hales Gallery whose Armory Show booth is now displaying Bowling’s work. “When the artist doesn’t know where it is, you kind of lose hope.”

Speaking to the painting’s recent re-discovery, Morrison said: “We immediately got it to the gallery and unrolled it—Frank was able to see it for the first time in 42 years, which was amazing for him. It was quite emotional for us to be with him; he just walked around with his walking stick and started pulling it apart, as a former painting. It was wonderful. He’s a really romantic artist.”

Painting courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London. Copyright of the Artist; Installation view of 'Frank Bowling', Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1971. Photograph by Geoffrey Clements.

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