(Featured image: Street art of David Bowie in Brixton, South London by artist Jimmy C. Photo by Maureen Barlin)
David Bowie was born David Jones on January 8, 1947, in London, and his recent passing has everyone focused on his life and achievements. While most know him for his musical abilities and fame, Bowie was also an artist and art collector. He studied art, worked as a commercial artist in his younger years, and continued his love of creating and collecting artwork through much of his life.
Exploring his creativity
David changed his last name from Jones to avoid confusion with Davy Jones from the Monkee’s, and he chose the name Bowie after the style of knife. David Bowie possessed a uniquely creative and artistic mind that allowed him to explore all types of expression including music, painting and photography. In 1999, he made a successful venture into the art world with an exhibition at the Cork Street Gallery in London. Along with gallery owner Bernard Jacobson, Sir Timothy Sainsbury and Karen Wright (editor of Modern Painters magazine) he started an art publishing company called 21 in the late 1990’s. David Bowie’s art collection included a diverse range of pieces from artists such as Gavin Turk, Tintoretto and Rubens, and Gilbert & George.
In a 1998 New York Times article entitled “Talking Art With David Bowie; A Musician’s Parallel Passion,” Michael Kimmelman sat down with David Bowie to discuss his love of creating and collecting art. The article was the first in a series that focused on people who had a unique connection with art but who weren’t primarily artists themselves. David Bowie fit the focus due to his attendance of art school and continued his pursuit of painting, drawing, creating prints and collecting artwork. Although David Bowie expressed trepidation about sharing his paintings at exhibitions, he didn’t hesitate to express his passion for connecting with and collecting art. He explained in the article that, “Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable nourishment. I use it. It can change the way that I feel in the mornings. The same work can change me in different ways, depending on what I’m going through.”
How painting influenced music
When asked by Michael Kimmelman about his “second career as a painter,” David Bowie explains that he wasn’t entirely sure why he decided to go public with his work in 1994 as it had been a private endeavor that helped him solve creative problems. “I’d find that if I had some creative obstacle in the music that I was working on, I would often revert to drawing it out or painting it out. Somehow the act of trying to recreate the structure of the music in paint or drawing would produce a breakthrough.” Bowie goes on to explain that when he couldn’t figure out how a particular piece of music was supposed to go together or sound, he’d attempt “draw or paint the sound of the music. And often a landscape will produce itself, then I’ll identify locations within the landscape. Suddenly I’ll realize where things go in the music.” It is a creative process very familiar to all types of artists and revealed yet another relatable aspect of David Bowie.
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