The Painter’s Poem

An unseen side of Frank Bowling

Frank Bowling, The Pearl Poet, 2020 © Frank Bowling. All rights reserved Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London, 2023. Photo: Sacha Bowling

  • 20 July 2023
  • Ursula: Issue 8

In 1953, Frank Bowling arrived in London from British Guiana (now Guyana) as a nineteen-year-old aspiring poet. During his first few years on the London art scene, Bowling wrote poems and considered a career in writing before making the transformative decision to enroll in art school. Written in 1957, “Aspirin Poisoned” is among the last poems Bowling wrote before embarking on his path as a painter. Today it is one of just ten original poems still in existence in the artist’s archive, none of them published until now. We present it alongside The Pearl Poet, 2020, which draws its title from the 14th-century Middle English poem “Pearl.”

Frank Bowling, “Aspirin Poisoned,” 1957 (typewritten as “Asprin [sic] Poisoned”). © Frank Bowling. Courtesy Frank Bowling Archive


We makers of sad lives that are so brief What in these years will bring us all relief? Could we but span lost labour's breath While snatching now, again part fill A thin result our own to will To the e'erlasting none return Which by predestined pace we earn The sweet, enchanting so unknown be death.

My friend if there's no place beyond the grave Rejoice! You worked not for a soul to save For in your darkness, golden silence, rest Fail not, that was a heart fear deep, The God bestowed you with his beloved sleep. The endless sleep will come, we're best, We're best! We lived the life, the full sweet Tender work of art.

For there's no joy like sorrow, No sweetness so like pain That showers then a tragic life Like drops of falling rain. Untold grandeur in the waiting The good must do without, And beauty in the sincere thing Done by a "Lazy lout."

And true your life is treasured In nature's precious book For from a life unfailing A work of art you shook.

Frank Bowling, The Pearl Poet, 2020. Acrylic and acrylic gel on canvas with marouflage, 115 x 74 in. (292.1 x 188 cm) © Frank Bowling. All rights reserved Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London, 2023. Photo: Sacha Bowling

Frank Bowling. Landscape” is open through August 5 at Hauser & Wirth West Hollywood.

Frank Bowling’s transatlantic career spans more than six decades. He has consistently pushed the boundaries of painting, rooted in both the English landscape tradition and American abstraction. Bowling experiments by pouring, dripping and throwing paint; stitching, collaging and embedding found objects in canvases. Bowling became a Royal Academician in 2005, was awarded an OBE in 2008 and was knighted in 2020 for his services to art. In 2019, Tate Britain hosted a retrospective of his work. In 2022, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston held a major Bowling show that has toured now to SFMOMA.