Artist Frank Bowling OBE RA has been bestowed with the honor of Knight Bachelor by the Queen of England. The knighthood has been given as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honors List, which commemorates the achievements of extraordinary people in the United Kingdom. It is given out biannually, once on the Queen’s birthday and once on New Year’s Eve.
The Significance Of The Knighthood
Frank Bowling’s award is significant because few Black artists have been knighted in the United Kingdom and the context of knighthood is problematic due to the violence associated with the British empire’s colonialism. The poet Benjamin Zephaniah notoriously rejected the knighthood in 2003 due to the “years of brutality” that are linked with imperial Britain’s history of colonialism and slavery.
Some Black artists have accepted royal awards and honors more recently, however. In 2016, actor Idris Elba was appointed OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honors. Additionally, in 2017 architect David Adjaye was given a knighthood for his architectural services at the Queen’s New Year’s Honors.
Director Steve McQueen also accepted a knighthood for his services to the film and art industries in the New Year’s Honors of 2020. The award followed an OBE in 2002 and a CBE in 2011. McQueen has stated that accepting the award was a difficult decision: “…it wasn’t an easy decision. It wasn’t,” he told The Guardian, adding, “But at the same time I was like, this knighthood] is one of the highest awards the state gives out, so I’m going to take it. Because I’m from here and if they want to give me an award, I’ll have it, thank you very much and I’ll use it for whatever I can use it for. End of story. It’s about what you do, it’s about being recognized. If you don’t get recognition, it’s easier for them to forget you.”
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Frank Bowling: Abstraction And Color Fields
Frank Bowling was born in British Guyana and moved to the UK at age 19. After completing his service with the Royal Air Force, he enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art, after which he won a scholarship to study at London’s Royal College of Art. During his studies, Frank Bowling met other prominent British artists including David Hockney, Derek Boshier and R. B. Kitaj.
Frank Bowling said in reaction to his recent honor, “Trained in the English art school tradition, my identity as a British artist has always been crucial to me and I have viewed London as my home since arriving in 1953 from what was then British Guyana. To be recognized for my contribution to British painting and art history with a knighthood makes me extremely proud.”
His distinct paintings explore themes of postcolonialism, politics and racism through color use and abstraction. Frank Bowling’s earlier works tended towards the autobiographical and figural, using silkscreen images of loved ones in Guyana. However, after moving to New York in 1966, his works began to utilize abstraction more prominently. Frank Bowling then combined elements from both of these periods into a signature style, most notably in his well-known series Map Paintings, which feature overlaid maps of Australia, Africa and South America on bright color fields.
Frank Bowling is considered one of the leading British painters of his time, with a career spanning 60 years. His work has been exhibited ad held in prominent art institutions including (but not limited to) the Tate Britain and the Royal Academy of Arts. Frank Bowling also has a forthcoming solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth.