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Richard Bowman

American
(1918–2001)

Kinetograph #5
1950

Oil and fluorescent lacquer on canvas
57 x 134 x 1 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
2002.12

Beginning in the early 1940s, Richard Bowman devoted several years to making abstract paintings about energy. In his “atomic landscapes” of that decade, he used pointillist brushstrokes to represent specks of energy owing from the sun to the earth. By the 1950s, his compositions had become more complex, animated, and luminous. Kinetograph #5 is from a series of paintings in which Bowman conceptualizes the way in which atomic and subatomic energies interact with physical objects.

Bowman was one of the first artists to paint with fluorescent pigments, which he believed contained subatomic life energy. He applied them to his canvases, but tempered their intensity by adding oil paint. In Kinetograph #5, the brightest element is the yellow sun in the painting’s upper right section. Moving in divergent directions throughout the composition, dots, lines, and dashes painted in varying colors represent atomic and molecular particles and energy fields that are normally invisible to human eyes. The more solid forms, such as the back side of a boat-shaped structure at left and a rock-shaped image at far right, refer to the larger-scale natural and human-made objects that make up the material world.

Although Bowman lived in Palo Alto, California at the time he painted Kinetograph #5, a group of artists based in the San Francisco Bay Area formed a movement in 1947, known as Dynaton, which employed the same type of abstract vocabulary to represent the invisible substructures of the cosmos. The group’s founders included the former surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford, whom Bowman lived with for six months in 1949, just prior to moving to Palo Alto in 1950, where he painted Kinetograph #5 at a studio on the Stanford campus.

David S. Rubin


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