Born in 1936 in Bartica in British Guyana, Bowling did not come to painting immediately. ‘I didn’t know anything about museums and art because I was trying to write,’ he tells me, before alluding to the literary heritage of New Amsterdam, the town where he grew up. Bowling moved to London as a teenager in 1953 and did national service in the RAF, where he met Keith Critchlow, a talented draughtsman about to begin his studies at the Royal College of Art. Critchlow introduced Bowling to his art-school friends and took him to the National Gallery, where he was struck by the English landscape tradition. Over the following years, he says, ‘Painting got a grip on me and so I just painted all the time’; it became ‘more engaging and satisfying than writing’. Following a stint at the Chelsea School of Art, in 1959 Bowling was accepted on a scholarship to the RCA, where his contemporaries included David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj, and Patrick Caulfield. Was there a spirit of competitiveness? ‘Yes, I felt there was a hum,’ says Bowling, while also acknowledging his disadvantage at not having studied art at an earlier age; others had ‘the edge’. Driven to improve, he graduated in 1962, winning the silver medal to Hockney’s gold.
Always tell someone how you feel because opportunities are lost in the blink of an eye but regret can last a lifetime.