Frank Bowling

Dan Johnson's Surprise

Not on view



Acrylic on canvas

Overall: 115 15/16 × 104 1/8in. (294.5 × 264.5 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art

Rights and reproductions
© Frank Bowling / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


  • Spilling Over, Spanish

    Frank Bowling, Dan Johnson’s Surprise, 1969

    Frank Bowling, Dan Johnson’s Surprise, 1969


    Narrador: En Dan Johnson’s Surprise, Frank Bowling—que nació en Guyana—usó un mapa de Sudamérica para estructurar una composición en gran medida abstracta. En una entrevista en la Tate Modern en 2012, el artista describió su enfoque en la época en que realizó esta obra.

    Frank Bowling: Cuando era joven, tendía a mirar el lado trágico de la conducta humana e intentaba reflejarlo en mi obra; sin embargo, a medida que me fui involucrando más en la creación de pinturas, comprendí que los ingredientes principales de esta disciplina son el color y la geometría.

    Entonces, por mera casualidad, las formas del mapa aparecieron cuando estaba en el Hotel Chelsea. Así comencé a pintar mapas de Sudamérica y de Guyana; luego, decidí realizar un mapa plano completo como tema a trabajar. Descubrí un gran atractivo en las formas y gráficas sugeridas en los mapas.

    Darby English: El artista se identificó totalmente con ese lenguaje del modernismo, pero algo impidió que Bowling adoptara por completo la abstracción, y lo demuestra al colocar una figura o un contorno del continente sudamericano en la pintura.

    Narrador: Darby English es historiador de arte y autor de 1971: A Year in the Life of Color.

    Darby English: El artista tenía que incluir un poco del mundo en la obra, y para mí, es lo que hacía en este momento.

  • Spilling Over

    Frank Bowling, Dan Johnson’s Surprise, 1969

    Frank Bowling, Dan Johnson’s Surprise, 1969


    Narrator: In Dan Johnson’s Surprise, Frank Bowling—who was born in Guyana—used a map of South America to structure a largely abstract composition. In this 2012 interview with the Tate Modern, he described his approach at the time he made this work. 

    Frank Bowling: In my youth I tended to look at the tragic side of human behavior and try and reflect that in my work, but gradually as I became more involved in the making of paintings, I realized that one of the main ingredients in making paintings was color and geometry. 

    And then, by sheer chance, the map shapes appeared whilst I was in Hotel Chelsea, so I started painting maps of South America and Guyana, and then I decided that I would do the entire flat map as a motif to work with. I just found the shapes and graphics suggested in maps very engaging.

    Darby English: He was completely identified with that language of modernism, but something stops Bowling from going all the way abstract, and he lets you know that by putting a figure or an outline of the South American continent into the painting.

    Narrator: Darby English is an art historian, and author of 1971: A Year in the Life of Color. 

    Darby English: He had to leave a little bit of the world in, and that to me is what I think he’s doing at this moment. 

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