Beyond being an extraordinary musical talent, David Bowie was also a brilliant artist. In this video interview, he takes us around an exhibit of his work spanning 1975-1995. That means that much of the work we see was created in tandem with albums like Low, Heroes, and Let’s Dance. Bowie appears alert and thoughtful throughout the video, clearly excited to reveal another of his alter egos.
Bowie was an artist for as long as he was a musician and was a devoted art collector. He had a particular taste for Basquiat, of whom he wrote: “I feel the very moment of his brush or crayon touching the canvas, there is a burning immediacy to his ever evaporating decisions that fires the imagination ten or fifteen years on, as freshly molten as the day they were poured onto the canvas. It comes as no surprise to learn that he had a not-so-hidden ambition to be a rock musician […] His work relates to rock in ways that very few other visual artists get near.”
Another of Bowie’s favourite artists was the German-British painter Frank Aurbach. As Bowie wanders around the exhibit, the influence of Aurbach’s textural abstract style is evident. Of the artist, Bowie said: “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.”
Describing Aurbach’s The Head of Gerda Boehm, Bowie once drew another parallel between his music and the world of art, exclaiming: “My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks. it will give spiritual weight to my angst. Some mornings I’ll look at it and go, ‘Oh, God, yeah! I know!’ But that same painting, on a different day, can produce in me an incredible feeling of the triumph of trying to express myself as an artist.”
The work Bowie shows us as he walks around his exhibit is richly varied. Bowie points out a particular collection of paintings that he describes as being inspired by a recent trip to South Africa. He tells us how one of the pieces, an intricately patterned wooden box, “represents an African district – the black community, that was razed to the ground. The whole community was moved to the other side of the mountain. And so that’s sort of in mourning for their community.”
Bowie also takes the opportunity to point out his favourite piece from the collection; a collage made up of contrasting textures and gradients. “It’s got a certain passion to it, and there’s a statement in it, for me, about inconsistency, sanity, and relationships that don’t gel.”
But the exhibit is also full of charcoal portraits and etchings. These deeply personal drawings seem to reveal something of Bowie’s obsession with the idea persona and with madness. Bowie’s own brother was sectioned and taken to a specialised institution. It was an experience that would haunt Bowie for the rest of his life and influenced much of his musical work. In this video, we are allowed access to the inner depths of a man attempting to reconfigure the life had been laid out for him.”
You can watch the full interview below: