Frank Bowling, Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman, 1968

A painting of bright green, yellow, and red vertical stripes with a faint outline of South America in the middle.

Acrylic on canvas. Tate: Presented by Rachel Scott 2006. © Frank Bowling. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage, London & ARS, New York 2022.

The title of this work refers to American abstract artist Barnett Newman (1905–1970) and his series of paintings Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue (1966–70). Bowling’s painting borrows from Newman’s canvases, which are divided into bands of primary color, implicitly challenging Newman’s (and other American artists’) authority over abstract painting. Into fields of lush color, Bowling introduces coded references to his own biography: outlines of South America and of his mother’s house in New Amsterdam, Guyana, hover over the painting’s central column. The substitution of Newman’s primaries for red, yellow, and green—used for tricolor flags in many African and Caribbean nations that gained newfound independence at the time, including Guyana in 1966—adds to the painting’s air of rebuttal.