Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

David Bowie, from Popstar to Neo-expressionist Painter

David Bowie before Peter Howson’s Croatian and Muslim, 1994, photograph by Richard Young. Getty Images.


David Bowie, from Popstar to Neo-expressionist Painter

Most people know David Bowie as a popstar and performer, but do you know his secret talent? He embraced the fine arts as well as music, performing arts and was also very passionate about painting. To express himself, he created lots of works that show a touch of neo-expressionism. Meet David Bowie artist and see his paintings.

David Bowie (1947 – 2016) showed his creativity mostly in his music and released many successful albums during a career spanning 5 decades. He was quite unique throughout his career because he managed to keep up with the latest trends as well as being an icon of fashion and performance. Just like a chameleon, he has transformed himself several times by performing under his alter-egos, such as the flamboyant Ziggy Stardust and the elegant Thin White Duke.

A Private Painter

He didn’t limit himself to music. Bowie also acted in several movies and stage productions. Having a creative mind, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that he also expressed himself through other arts such as painting.

In the early stages, Bowie didn’t have great ambitions about his painting. It was a private thing and was about problem solving. Whenever he encountered a creative obstacle in the music he was working on, he would revert to drawing and painting. You can see that, for example, in Turkish Father and Son, a canvas that he made while writing the song Yassassin. The melody has a strong Turkish flavor and the title is Turkish for long life.

David Bowie, Turkish Father and Son, 1978. David Bowie Paintings
David Bowie paintings: Turkish Father and Son, 1978, private collection. Art Sheep.

The public is more appreciative of Bowie’s music compared to his painting. That is probably why this artistic side of Bowie isn’t very well known. It wasn’t until 1995, when he used a self-portrait on the cover of his album Outside, that he had his first exposition; New Afro/Pagan and Work: 1975-1995 at The Gallery in London. A year later, he featured in an art gallery in Basel, Switzerland. In a way he longed to be considered as a valid artist, but at the same time, he wasn’t very sure what he was doing. When exposing in The Gallery, he stood in the back and watched people standing in front of his work and coming up with their own explanations for what it was. He enjoyed the attention, but was also confronted with a lack in his technical skills.  

David Bowie Paintings. David, Bowie, The Head – Outside, 1995, private collection
David Bowie paintings: The Head – Outside, 1995, private collection. Art Sheep.

Angie’s Influence

He studied music (baritone sax), art and design at school. Throughout his early career, it became very clear that he didn’t limit himself to his music, but also took part in the design of his costumes. He even designed stage sets. He made several studies for the video clip that accompanies the hit Ashes to Ashes. It must be said that this artistic influence on all that he did can’t be attributed to himself alone. He was greatly supported by Angela Barnett, his first wife. Angie would be immortalised later in The Rolling Stone’s song, Angie.

David Bowie and Angie Barnett, 1974, photograph by Terry O’Neill.
David Bowie and Angie Barnett, 1974, photograph by Terry O’Neill. Rolling Stone.

Andy Warhol

Dwelling around the artistic scene, Bowie became fascinated by Andy Warhol after seeing a 1971 screening of the play Pork in London. That experience led Bowie to write the song Andy Warhol as a single for his fourth studio album, Hunky Dory. Via Warhol, he became acquainted with Jean-Michel Basquiat and later in 1996, he starred as Andy Warhol in the movie Basquiat directed by Julian Schnabel.

German Neo-Expressionism

Bowie was influenced by the artists Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Francis Bacon and Francis Picabia. He was fan of the Die Brücke group, a German expressionist group of the early 1900s.

His brushwork is very expressive and he made use of bold colors. The rough impasto technique allows us to see the individual brushstrokes that he has used.

Subjects of his paintings were always close to him, like a setting of the stairs of the ground floor of the Berlin apartment he shared with Iggy Pop in the late 1970s. He used this location to paint Child in Berlin. The lighter side of this painting is that there was in fact a dental practice on the 3rd floor of the apartment. The boy doesn’t look very happy, he might be about to have a tooth pulled.

David Bowie Paintings. David Bowie with his painting Child in Berlin, 1977, photograph by Kevin Mazur
David Bowie with his painting Child in Berlin, 1977, photograph by Kevin Mazur. Art Sheep.

He portrayed some of his friends, such as the rock star Iggy Pop and pianist Mike Garson. Knowing that he was suffering at that time from heavy drug use, the disturbing and haunted images might not surprise you. Alongside his technique, Bowie also shared the same language of intense emotions as the German neo-expressionists.

During his Berlin era, he recorded the albums Low, Lodger and one of his masterpieces Heroes. The cover of the latest album, designed by Masayoshi Sukita, is inspired by Erich Heckel’s 1917 painting Roquairol. He made a self-portrait drawing which shows some resemblance to the German expressionist. Also his friend, Iggy Pop, used this painting for the cover of his album The Idiot.

The South Africa Series

In the same way as he was constantly in search of new ideas for his music, he continued to paint new subjects.

In 1995 he took a trip to South Africa with Iman, his second wife. He was struck by a story which revealed an ancient belief of the local people. Apparently, when the local tribes first came into contact with white men, they presumed that they were being visited by their ancestors. In their mythology, these ancestors appear in a ghost-like white form.

This story inspired Bowie to paint his series of Ancestors. He still used an expressive style of painting, this time combined with African elements such as animal skin patterns.

David Bowie Paintings. David Bowie, Ancestor II, 1998, private collection
David Bowie paintings: Ancestor II, 1998, private collection. Art Sheep.

The Art Collector

Next to his own painting, Bowie was also a collector of art. Although he claimed never to be driven by the work’s potential investment value, (he followed his own taste) he owned the work of top artists. Amongst the pieces he collected are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Henry Moore, Marcel Duchamp, Graham Sutherland and some ceramics from Picasso. Over the years, he had collected a broad range of art, from contemporary art to a 16th-century Venetian altarpiece by Tintoretto.

He got acquainted with some of the artists. The spin painting Beautiful, Hello, Space-Boy Painting is the result of a collaboration with the famous British artist Damien Hirst and David Bowie. It was a bit like a Jackson Pollock painting, but with two artists working together. While Bowie stood on a ladder and threw paint, Hirst was spinning the canvas beneath him. Sounds like fun!

David Bowie Paintings
Damien Hirst with David Bowie, Beautiful, Hello, Space-Boy Painting, 1995, private collection. Damien Hirst.

After Bowie’s death in 2016, around 350 pieces of his collection were put up for auction at Sotheby’s in London. A packed salesroom and more than a thousand online bidders were interested in purchasing works from his collection. The sales came to a total of £24.3 million ($30.2 million) over two days.

Here you can enjoy some of Bowies painting and sketches.

Discover more celebrities that are also painters:

I believe that art makes us better people and gives us many ways of reflexion on the world of today, past and future. I am amazed and look every time through the eyes of a child. That makes me an art lover and a big admirer of Pablo Picasso. I enjoy visiting art galleries and take at least 40 different looks at the same work of art.



More in Artist

  • Artist

    Peter Paul Rubens: Sensuous Gods and Dramatic Saints


    Peter Paul Rubens is synonymous with Flemish Baroque. His dynamic yet sensuous style made him the most popular artist of his time, running a large workshop in Antwerp that catered to royals and nobles throughout Europe. He is best known for his mythological and religious paintings,...

  • 21st century

    The Ephemeral Magic of Raw Clay: Artist Interview with Phoebe Cummings


    Phoebe Cummings (b.1981) is a British sculptress-ceramics artist working primarily with unfired, living clay in its raw state. She creates time-based installations that are extremely detailed, delicate, and multi-layered. Phoebe’s exquisite clay sculptures pulse with an irresistible energy as they gradually shapeshift over time shrinking, cracking,...

  • Elena Antonopoulou, Say Goodbye to Her, the Alexandria You Are Losing, 2018, collage, Artist's photo. Elena Antonopoulou, Say Goodbye to Her, the Alexandria You Are Losing, 2018, collage, Artist's photo.

    Contemporary Art

    The Scenographic World of Elena Antonopoulou


    Elena Antonopoulou is a young artist from Greece. She has studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts. Also, she has participated in several artistic contests, winning first place and recognition. In Spring 2021 she will have her first solo exhibition in Athens. Her work has...

  • 20th century

    Famous Musicians who Paint: Making Music and Art


    Creatively speaking, the term ‘art’ can mean many things. Whether it is music, writing, painting, sculpting, or drawing, it is all under the umbrella of ‘art.’ For the sake of this article however, let us look at several well-known musicians who created visual art outside of...

  • César Baldaccini, Compression, 1988, private collection. Source: www.karlundfaber.de. César Baldaccini, Compression, 1988, private collection. Source: www.karlundfaber.de.

    20th century

    César Baldaccini: Master of Compression


    César Baldaccini, better known simply as César, was a prominent French sculptor of the 1960s. He created large sculptures formed by compressing crushed automobiles, discarded metal, rubbish, domestic objects, or even jewelry. He also collaborated with Louis Vuitton and Cartier and, through his hands, iron became...

To Top