Eclectic Notes On David Bowie and Art

David Bowie and Buster Keaton Eclectix


Today is David Bowie’s birthday and it prompted a long afternoon yesterday, lost in the web of all-things-Bowie-related. Bowie is one of those artists who has delved into many fields of artistic pursuits – music, visual art, acting, fashion, design, writing and performance. He has been an outspoken icon for millions, enabling the most misfit of us to feel validation and celebrate our oddities. Easily switching occupations, muses, gender roles, personas and attire – crossing out the boundaries of sexism, classism and racism in his music and his deeds. David and his wife Iman, have one of the few marriages to have sustained the pressures of fame and racism – being happily married for a good 20 years now.

We thought we’d spend some time here covering the less well known sides to his artistic life, ( at least they were somewhat unknown to us), some eclectic notes on David Bowie and art.  No Ziggy shots are posted here and not much about Bowie’s music – just some excellent portraits, quotes, links, writings and tidbits related to his art, other artists and fun exploits. Starting with the fantastic photo above –  David Bowie and Buster Keaton Biography by Steve Schapiro/Corbis and the one directly below – now, who’s the mum here?


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The Rock and Roller, too old to lose it…

Bowie’s music is first and foremost, he has compiled a renown library of songs, iconic albums and creative videos. We have always been in love with David’s music, his swooning voice, eclectic productions and rebel stance has gotten us through many tough times. His Ashes To Ashes video, co-directed by David Mallet, still stands out, as one of the most original and creative, to this day.



The Cracked Actor, show me you’re real…

 His acting gigs have included memorable movies and unique heartbreaking performances – especially as The Elephant Man in the Broadway play, a vampire in The Hunger and as an alien in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (above). These two movies are both really worth a new view or a re-view.



The Fashionista, turn to the left…

David’s influence on our fashion world and transgender trends has been widespread and long lasting. He merged rock and theatre with his androgynous alter egos, futuristic costumes and outlandish gear- from space/samurai outfits and “man dresses”, to severe starkly designed suits, flame-red hair to all manner of face paint and makeup. David has worked with many fashion designers to achieve his looks - Kansai Yamamoto, Freddi Buretti, Alexander McQueen, Hedi Slimane and Keanan Duffty. Bowie is to part-curate an exhibition of his life and work – David Bowie Is, told primarily through his extravagant costumes at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, opening March 23rd, 2013. Let’s hope it travels here to the Bay Area… hear that all you museum curators out there?


Bowie purchased the “woodlands animal costume” from Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto’s London boutique. (above)  He wore it at the Rainbow Concert, 1972. He subsequently viewed a video of a rock-fashion show that Kansai had staged in Japan, the previous year, and loved the costumes – a combination of modern sci-fi and classical Kabuki theatre. Kansai gifted Bowie two costumes in New York during the 2nd US Tour. Kansai was then commissioned to create nine more costumes based on traditional Japanese Noh dramas. These were the flamboyant androgynous Ziggy Stardust costumes Bowie wore on his 3rd UK tour in 1973.


“He has an unusual face, don’t you think? He’s neither man nor woman. If you see what I mean; which suited me as a designer because most of my clothes are for either sex. I love his music and obviously that has influenced my designs but most of all there’s this aura of fantasy that surrounds him. He has flair.” - Kansai Yamamoto (June 1973)




 The Visual Artist, hang him on my wall…

Bowie has been creating art and collecting art his whole life. Today, he owns “a few Tintorettos and a Rubens”, among others – mostly contemporary British art. He started out as an art student early on and then moved on to concentrate on music. He continues to paint in his private life and has posted his personal work here on his website. The images are all way too small to see much detail, however. Above: One of Bowie’s paintings   Below: One of our favorite Bowie album covers, Scary Monsters – designed and illustrated by by Edward Bell, Brian Duffy and David Bowie.


Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own.  It has always been for me a stable nourishment.

bowie on art

Fernando Aceves took these two photographs of David Bowie in Mexico City in 1997. Above: At Frida Kahlo’s house with mask.  Below: Fernando explains, “Bowie stopped to study this mural by Diego Rivera. Suddenly his figure seemed to merge into the painting and I was able to confirm why he is also known as The Chameleon.”

david bowie eclectix 


The Writer, ’cause I wrote it ten times or more… 

Aside from the countless incredible lyrics Bowie has written, he has also ventured into editorial writing on art. He has interviewed a number of artists – Julian Schnabel, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Balthus among others. These all seem to have been published in Modern Painters Magazine (of which Bowie is on the editorial board). Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the full interviews anywhere online!  If you find one, please let us know. An excerpt from the Hirst interview follows, Via The Independent: 

Bowie: Does one have to have a social conscience as an artist?   Hirst: I have no social conscience when I’m working. It’s out of my hands. The viewer may want to make that judgement. I’m not too concerned with interpretation. Neither can I allow myself to be bothered by taboo or even an idea of integrity. Integrity you either have or you don’t.

The excerpts below are from a very interesting interview with Bowie by Michael Kimmelman, TALKING ART WITH/David Bowie; A Musician’s Parallel Passion, New York Times.

“… because the most interesting thing for an artist is to pick through the debris of a culture, to look at what’s been forgotten or not really taken seriously. Once something is categorized and accepted, it becomes part of the tyranny of the mainstream, and it loses its potency. It’s always been that way for me: the most imprisoning thing is to feel myself being pigeonholed.”

On abstract art: “I always want a certain abstraction. Art should be open enough for me to develop my own dialogue with it.”

“And I notice that the crowds that go to museums and galleries these days seem a lot younger than they ever were…. I think they’re a generation that doesn’t see a separation between the visual and the audio. You know, 25 years ago there were a whole crop of us that tried to drag all the arts together and create this potpourri, a kind of new essence for English music. It started even before us, in the mid-60′s, when so many of our blues players and rhythm-and-blues bands came out of art school. In Britain, there was always this joke that you went to art school to learn to play blues guitar.”


bowie on art - eclectix - nat tate

The Artful Dodger, the joke we always knew…

 Nat Tate was an imaginary person, invented by author William Boyd and created as “an abstract expressionist who destroyed ’99%’ of his work and leapt to his death from the Staten Island ferry. His body was never found.” Boyd published the book as a hoax, presented as a real biography. Gore Vidal, John Richardson (Picasso’s biographer), Karen Wright (then editor of the influential Modern Painters magazine) and David Bowie (a board member of Modern Painters magazine and co-director with Karen Wright of 21 Publishing, which published the book) were all participants in the hoax. “Nat Tate” is a combination of the names of two London art galleries, the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery.

Boyd and his conspirators set about convincing the New York glitterati that the reputation of this influential abstract expressionist needed to be re-evaluated. Bowie held a launch party at Jeff Koon’s Manhattan art studio on April Fool’s Day eve, 1998, and read extracts from the book. Karen Wright  said the hoax was not meant to be malicious: “Part of it was, we were very amused that people kept saying ‘Yes, I’ve heard of him.’ There is a willingness not to appear foolish. Critics are too proud for that.” - Via Wikipedia

“Nat Tate was created out of a desire to experiment – to see if something entirely fictitious could experience a life in the world as something wholly credible, real, and true. I wanted to launch the book out into the public arena and see what would happen, to see who bought the story wholesale and who was suspicious. I wondered how long it would take for us to be rumbled. A month? Six months? A year or so?” – William Boyd, via Harpers Bazaar


And lastly, more to share – a cool link to  a number Bowie photos we hadn’t seen before…  and our own previous Eclectix post of portraits of Bowie done by a multitude of fine artists…  a funny recording of Bowie and a telephone operator… and a clever interview where Bowie talks about art on a bed… Bowie’s main music website…  enjoy!



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