Quick study: David Bowie and art

Like many artists last week, I was surprised and deeply saddened by David Bowie’s death. After spending hours gorging on the massive amount of Bowie-related Internet content, I’m inspired by his life and work–his enduring commitment to making art, his brilliant ability to transform his experience into music, his willingness to help other artists, his humor, and of course his limitless talent. Here are a few art-related links for articles and videos I stumbled across.

[Image at top: Stephen Finer, David Bowie, 1994. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features}

In the1990s, Bowie started an art publishing business called 21. Here’s an article about one of its projects, Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960, a monograph of a fictitious artist that was later revealed as a hoax. (The Guardian). ArtNews has republished a 1998 piece about the company.

He was on the Editorial Board at Modern Painters, where he contributed several interviews with notable artists, including Julian Schnabel, Tracey Emin, and Damien Hirst. I found this 1996 video of Bowie and Schnabel smoking cigarettes and talking about painting on Charlie Rose:

In  2001, The Guardian published an edited version of an email exchange between Bowie and Tracey Emin.

Artnet featured an article about Bowie’s art collection. “From a very early age I was always fascinated by those who transgressed the norm, who defied convention, whether in painting or in music or anything,” Bowie told Life magazine in 1992. “Those were my heroes.” (Read more)

Quoting Bowie biographer Kevin Cann, the NYTimes reported that Bowie began painting in 1976 as an antidote to drug addiction after moving to Berlin in 1976. “I think it saved his life,” Mr. Cann said. “He was in a paranoid state, genuinely a dangerous position, and he needed that strong distraction from the music scene.” (Read more)

David Cohen, publisher of ArtCritical, dug out a 1994 interview he did with Bowie in The Daily Telegraph. �I have taken to drawing rather a lot while recording recently, as it seems to stimulate some new ideas in both mediums…” (Read more)

Check out a 1998 interview with Michael Kimmelman, “Talking Art with David Bowie: A Musician’s Parallel Passion,” in which Bowie said:

There are times when I prefer a cerebral moment with an artist, and I’ll just enjoy the wit of a Picabia or a Duchamp. It amuses me that they thought that what they did would be a good way of making art. Sometimes I wish that I could put myself in Duchamp’s place to feel what he felt when he put those things on show and said: ”I wonder if they’ll go for this. I wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow morning.”

There’s the other side of me that thinks he did it just because he couldn’t paint. Maybe in hostility to an art scene that he wasn’t making it very big in, he felt forced into a situation of producing a new kind of art–which would be a very human reaction, and it wouldn’t demean him at all in my eyes if he’d just said: ”I’ll put a toilet on show. Let’s see how far I can push it.”

And finally, here’s a 2013 paparazzi shot of David Bowie on vacation with his family in Venice. The thing that strikes me about this image is that he doesn’t look like the celebrity or the wealthy rock musician that he certainly was, or the immortal cultural icon that he remains. He looks like an ordinary artist–just like one of us.


BONUS VIDEO: David Bowie singing “Heroes,” live in Berlin, 2002.


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