The tragic news of legendary musician David Bowie dying at the age of 69 after a long battle with cancer, was announced this morning by his son.
Having been an artist in the traditional sense, and it seems, in every other; we celebrate Bowie’s lifelong journey with art. He was the man who had just one GCSE in the only thing that inspired him, art, and went on to be a great influence to it.
The Influence of Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was a huge influence on David Bowie, both in the androgynous way he dressed and also in his revolutionary pop-art ideas and techniques. Bowie would end up becoming friend’s with Warhol, paying homage to him by naming a track ‘Andy Warhol’ on the 1971 album Hunky Dory.
Bowie even went on to play the man himself in the 1996 film ‘Basquiat’, about the relationship between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Warhol, where the wigs Bowie donned in the film were actually Warhol’s own.
The Beginnings of His Collection
Having studied art at college, Bowie started collecting works of art as soon as he could, specifically on his move to Switzerland in the mid 70’s where he was the neighbor of French modern artist Balthus for a time. He began collecting with “a couple of Tintorettos” and a Rubens, moving on to more modern pieces including Gavin Turk and Gilbert and George. In his own words “Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own.”
Art in Music
Bowie and Brian Eno collaborated many times; on the conceptual 1995 record ‘Outside’ they closed the gap between art and music referencing the essay “Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts” by Thomas De Quincey in 1828. The song, based on a detective story, considers whether crime can be considered an art form and references Venice Biennale, Picasso’s Minotaur, the artists of Viennese Actionism, Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Hermann Nitsch.
N.B. Bowie also recorded the track ‘Pablo Picasso’ in 2003.
Bowie On Other Artists
He collected works by Frank Auerbach saying of him “I find his kind of bas-relief way of painting extraordinary. Sometimes I’m not really sure if I’m dealing with sculpture or painting. Plus, I’ve always been a huge David Bomberg fan. I love that particular school. There’s something very parochial English about it. But I don’t care. I like Kossoff for the same reason.”
“I admire the trickery of his work, the cankerous skin, which is nice and grungy. But I don’t buy into him being the greatest painter that we have.”
Bowie believed that like the Chapman Brothers, Damien Hirst also owed a small debt to Duchamp, however unlike the Chapman Brothers, Bowie was a fan of Hirst’s:
“He’s different. I think his work is extremely emotional, subjective, very tied up with his own personal fears — his fear of death is very strong — and I find his pieces moving and not at all flippant.”
Bowie would collaborate with Hirst on his ‘Spin’ series.
Bowie’s Assistance to Young Artists
In his later years, Bowie threw himself further and further into the contemporary art world, founding the editorial 21, that publishes books specialising in contemporary art; and proceeded to set up a virtual gallery space ‘Bowieart’ to function as a gallery for young artists.
Bowie and Nat Tate
Bowie never took anything too seriously, and during the hype of the YBA’s (Young British Artists) Bowie’s publishing company brought out a book by a then unknown artist Nat Tate – the launch of which was made at Jeff Koons’ house. After many art critics and aficionados claimed they knew Tate, he sadly committed suicide at the age of 32. Which is when it came out that it was all a prank played by Bowie. Nat Tate, comes from National Gallery and Tate Gallery, and was a joke played on the art world and the art journalists who claim to know all artists personally.
Bowie Becomes His Own Exhibition
Although Bowie had plenty of exhibitions of his paintings over the years, it was the sell-out retrospective of his career at the V&A in 2013, titled ‘David Bowie Is ..’ that cemented his presence as an artist of all mediums.
The title of the exhibition, left unfinished, was perfectly fitting for the man who just couldn’t be pigeon-holed.
Visitors were welcomed with the quote by Bowie “All art is unstable, there is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings…” and this exhibition demonstrated that point through the 300 eclectic artefacts on display representing Bowie’s career. Costumes were displayed, his music videos played, the strange methods with which he came up with and wrote songs were unveiled, his music was played, his bizarre, surrealist performances projected, his art, including self-portraits, displayed. It was the perfect demonstration that everything Bowie had done, everything he had worn, sung or drawn had been considered, curated; for the love of art – and, the establishment agreed; which must have been a great source of pride for the boy from Brixton.
The exhibition was such a success it went on tour for the next 3 years.