Art world hero: artists and curators pay tribute to David Bowie

British musician, artist and actor inspired a generation of artists including Tracey Emin and Dexter Dalwood

by Gareth Harris, Anny Shaw  |  11 January 2016
Art world hero: artists and curators pay tribute to David Bowie
The Archer, by John Robert Rowlands, from David Bowie's Station to Station tour in 1976
Leading art-world figures are today mourning the death of the musician, artist and actor David Bowie, who had been suffering from cancer for the past 18 months. Bowie, who died aged 69 yesterday, studied art at Bromley Technical High School, briefly going to Croydon School of Art. He continued to create works throughout his life; in 1995 he had his first one-man exhibition of paintings in The Gallery on Cork Street.

The Turner Prize nominee Dexter Dalwood told The Art Newspaper: “I started to play the bass guitar at 14 and The Jean Genie was the first song I could ever play along with. On an early trip to London in the 1970s, I went in search of the red phone box in Heddon Street, from the back of the Ziggy Stardust album cover, and pressed my head against the glass. The first time I ever landed in New York I had Young Americans playing on my headphones. Bowie was always there; he rang all the changes as the decades slid on.”

Other artists and curators took to social media to remember the Thin White Duke. Tracey Emin, whom Bowie first interviewed for Modern Painters magazine in 1997, tweeted: “So long my friend. Thank you for the sound track of my life #DavidBowie.” Emin officially opened Bowie’s retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2013.

Bowie, who collected Modern and contemporary art, also wrote about it and in 1997 co-founded 21, an art-book publishing project. He was a frequent contributor and editorial board member of Modern Painters magazine. In 1996 he wrote an op-ed about the importance of the late graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat: “For the briefest flicker of a tiny moment in the mid-80s, New York's streets and subways came alive with Twomblyesque cave-scratchings and the screaming confusion of five-fingered fury. 'SAMO', as in 'same old shit', keyed the eye to the new language. It travelled well, deep into the hostile incubators patrolled by Mary Boone, Annina Nosei, spiralling up to rupturous suspicion with the Warhol collaborations at Tony Shafrazi's.” The same year, Bowie played Andy Warhol in the biopic, Basquiat.  

In another Modern Painters piece of 1996, Bowie spoke to Damien Hirst on the eve of his solo show at Gagosian gallery in New York. Bowie questioned Hirst about mortality, saying: “What seems to define your work as being so different from that of your peers is a far greater degree of personal passion. A strong resentment of the idea of death. It certainly strikes me as emotive, a reverberation of sorts, whereas in the work of your friends like Gavin Turk or Sarah Lucas say, the basis seems to be a no-nonsense cynicism, a dark ironic stance maybe.”

The UK artist Stuart Semple posted on Instagram: “I woke up today devastated by the #Bowie news. He's inspired me more than just about anyone else during [my] whole life. His words mean the world to me and they are in so much of what I make. Feel very lost this morning.” Meanwhile, Tanya Barson, the curator of international art at Tate Modern, wrote on Facebook: “Back to the stars Starman!”

Bowie’s legacy continues. His V&A retrospective, David Bowie Is, which has already opened at seven venues, is currently on show at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands (until 13 March). A Japanese venue is due to be confirmed for spring 2017. The show includes more than 300 objects demonstrating how “Bowie’s work has both influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design, theatre and contemporary culture”, according to the organisers.

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