Bowen, Denis

Denis Bowen

  (Br. 1921-2006)

For over 50 years Denis Bowen was a leading proponent of informal abstract painting in Britain. His painting adhered to the existential freedom and automatic procedures of “Tachism” and “Gesturalism”. In later years he marshaled the energetic blobs, splashes and dribbles of poured or sprayed paint towards a cosmological symbolism expressive of phenomena like eclipses, supernovae, galactic explosions or volcanic eruptions – themes that bridged the gap between art and science, and expressed his interest in the revelations and discoveries of the Space Age. His style matured neither in an ivory tower nor in a cultural vacuum. He read enthusiastically about contemporary French painting in the periodicals Art d’Aujourd’hui and Cimaise. His artistic pantheon was not distant or academic, for in London this ubiquitous and lifelong gallery-goer met heroes like Giacometti, Pierre Soulages or Georges Mathieu, artists that, through their process-led aesthetics, consolidated Bowen’s own belief in “pure painting”. Though more European in feel, Bowen’s work also related to the direct “action” painting of New York “abstract expressionism” and Bowen met Theodoros Stamos, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman in London, the British painter taking Newman to see Brunel’s Paddington Station. In 1957 he contributed to the Redfern Gallery’s landmark “Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract”, an exhibition that put Bowen’s painterly abstraction in context – among the other exhibitors were Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron, Sandra Blow, Adrian Heath and Gillian Ayres. The same year he contributed his aptly named picture Automatic Image to the first John Moores biennial exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. A book and retrospective at the Belgrave Gallery, London in 2001, together with the belated acquisition of work by the Tate Gallery, finally celebrated his broad, but underrated, contribution to post–war abstract art in Britain.