Legal battle over artist’s legacy begins in London’s High Court

Artist Frank Bowling has sued Hales Gallery in London’s High Court over his artistic legacy in a bitter £30 million legal feud.

In a statement, the 86-year-old abstract artist says he terminated his decade-long relationship with the gallery in October 2019 over an alleged breakdown in trust. According to the claim filed on 18 August 2020, the gallery committed “serious breaches” in their agreement with the artist including a failure to properly account for funds received for Bowling’s work despite requests from the artist and continuing to sell his work against his wishes.

Bowling claims Hales owes him a “large amount of money” amounting to over US$2.3 million (£1.8 million) for past sales of his work. He further claims the gallery is in wrongful possession of about 110 of his works valued at £14 million, which he believes are in storage in London and New York. “The feeling that they had taken advantage of me is reinforced by the extraordinary demands they are now making for vast sums of money, while holding to ransom my own paintings”, Bowling said.

Hales, which operates galleries in London’s Shoreditch and New York, is countersuing for up to US$18.3 million (£14 million) in lost commission and damages. The gallery alleges Bowling had no right to terminate their agreement without proper notice and that the breakdown in the relationship was due to a power grab by Bowling’s sons, Ben and Sacha. According to Edward Cummings QC, who represents Bowling, Ben and Sacha were appointed as their father’s new managers in 2019 to “secure his creative legacy” and “reduce the administrative burden” on Bowling and his wife, Rachel Scott.

On the contrary, Hales claims Bowling’s sons were engaged in a “concerted campaign” to destroy the artist’s relationships with the gallery in an attempt to wrest control of Bowling’s legacy from his wife. “The tactics employed by them (and particularly by Ben) in trying to wrestle control from her included casting doubt on her mental faculties as a result of her age. Such statements had no basis in reality,” said Bobby Friedman, a representative of Hales.

Bowling denies accusations of a family power struggle and said they “misrepresent in the nastiest way my personal situation and family life”.

Born in the town of Bartica in colonial British Guiana in 1934, Bowling moved to London in 1953. He won a scholarship to study painting at the Royal College of Art alongside students including David Hockney, Derek Boshier and R.B. Kitaj. Renowned for his distinctive soft colour palette, Bowling’s early works incorporated personal and political imagery. When he moved to New York in 1966 he began combining personal memories and abstraction and produced his seminal body of work, the Map Paintings.

Bowling became the first black artist to be elected to London’s Royal Academy of Arts in 2005 and was made an OBE in 2008.

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