Sir Frank Bowling, one of Britain’s most celebrated abstract painters, is selling prints of his work to help fund art supplies for 100 primary schools in England as part of a project that he hopes will be a “gamechanger” in art education by making state school students realise art isn’t off limits.
Proceeds from the sale of 100 hand-signed prints will fund “art packages”, including canvas, paint and a six-lesson curriculum that could give about 30,000 primary schoolchildren an “alternative” introduction to art.
The project comes as arts education in state schools is under threat with spending per pupil in England falling by nearly 10% in real terms since 2009 and many institutions having to cut back on provision.
Many teachers have criticised the government’s approach to art education, particularly the decision to introduce the English baccalaureate, which excludes all arts subjects – while private schools are free to focus on the arts.
A study by the Fabian Society in 2019 found that 68% of primary school teachers in England felt there was less arts education now than in 2010, with just under half believing the quality had decreased.
Bowling’s son, Ben Bowling helped organise the project, which hopes to raise £500,000. He said: “Bridging that gap and enabling children of all ages, irrespective of their family background or their means, to have access to art education and material is the goal.”
He said the project’s objective was “widening access in the most direct and immediate sense” for schoolchildren.
He added: “Dad’s ambition is for this to be a gamechanger in the way that children are introduced to fine art so they’re introduced to canvas, to the pleasure and the possibilities of paint and the idea that they can make art.”
Frank Bowling, 89, who moved from Guyana to Britain in 1953, is best known for the large-scale abstract “map” paintings he produced in the late 1960s after graduating from the Royal College of Art a decade earlier at the same time as David Hockney and other “pop artists”.
While Hockney went on to superstardom, Bowling felt “squeezed out” of London and moved to New York. He didn’t achieve recognition in the UK until relatively recently.
It was not until 2019 that he had a major retrospective in the UK when Tate Britain held a decade-spanning exhibition dedicated to him, which led to him being hailed as “a shunned giant of British art” after its success.
Frank Bowling said: “Artists will always do what they have to do and find ways of doing – art finds a way, but young children need schools to be a place of artistic possibilities. It’s not just about making art; it’s about making sure they feel empowered to create, no matter what.”
The hand-signed prints (titled Understanding Frank) are of another map painting, this time of the British Isles, taken from a book Bowling produced in 1980.
The idea for the project came at the same time Bowling began to receive invites from schools in London whose students were using his work as inspiration following his rise to prominence after the Tate exhibition.
Ben Bowling said: “We started visiting schools and doing presentations to six and seven-year-olds and we realised there were things that they needed.
“One of the paradoxes here is that when you get to university level, Royal College of Art, Courtauld, Slade, Central Saint Martins – these are world-class institutions but art schools in England have become the preserve of the elite, there has been a massive shift.”
The project coincides with Bowling’s 90th birthday on 26 February, and is in collaboration with the arts platform, Cultural Institute of Radical Contemporary Arts (Circa), which projected Bowling’s first digital art work in Piccadilly Circus in 2023.
Frank Bowling has previously donated prints to the Hepworth Wakefield’s School Prints campaign.
The Circa pipeline: Frank Bowling Arts Programme 2024/45 is supported by education supply company, Findel Education, and schools across the UK can apply for the packages from 26 February.
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