As Bowiemania takes over the world, our columnist tells how he is putting on a particularly original, global tribute to the multifaceted cultural icon. JEAN-DAVID MALAT
The current exhibition on David Bowie at London’s V&A, sponsored by Gucci, is an interactive hi-tech exhibition featuring more than 300 objects – handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, personal instruments and original album artworks, brought together by the V&A for the very first time in order to give visitors a more comprehensive insight into the life, career and mind of David Bowie. One would ask “why such mass enthusiasm for the artist?”, to which only one answer is possible: because he is a legend and his influence on contemporary creative society is exemplary and will be remembered.
Bowie has sold close to 136 million albums, and ranks among the ten best selling acts in UK pop history. In the BBC’s 2002 poll of the ‘100 Greatest Britons’, Bowie ranked 29 – that’s Britons of any type.
Bowie’s avant-garde artistic aura is what made him the legend he is, and art has played a large part in his life. Andy Warhol, probably the most famous artist of the pop art movement, was one of Bowie’s greatest inspirations. In 2003, in an interview with Performing Songwriter magazine about the song he wrote about Warhol, Bowie explained that he took the song to The Factory (Warhol’s studio and workshop) when he first visited America and that Andy Warhol hated it. After this unfortunate event, Bowie got to know Warhol and they became friends.
In 1996, David Bowie even played the part of Andy Warhol in Julian Schabel’s film ‘Basquiat.’ So, in parallel to the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition, in 2013, the Opera Gallery is opening a visual artistic tribute exhibition on the legendary musician and icon.
Over twenty contemporary artists, from the US, the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe have been asked to create an artwork that pays homage to the singer, in their own style and technique.
The list of participating artists include Spanish portraitist Lita Cabellut – whose large-scale portraits fascinate the viewers with striking depth and colours; French stencil artist C215 who usually makes portraits of the poor 01 and homeless but eagerly accepted the challenge to depict the iconic singer for this exhibition.
British street artists Bob and Chaz from The London Police (TLP) collective are also taking part in the exhibition ‘The Many Faces of David Bowie.’ Famous for their lovable & iconic ‘Lads’ characters that have been seen on streets all over the world, they will bring a new dimension to the tribute display thanks to their unique back-to-basic black and white ink drawing technique. Other street artists from the British scene were selected to take part in the exhibition, such as Bristol-born Nick Walker, who emerged from the graffiti scene in the early 1980s and is now famous for his style and humour that have gained him worldwide recognition. Finally, Mac1 is a photo-realistic graffiti artist who came out of Birmingham’s innovative scene in the 1980s & 90s. He is a selftaught artist who deals mainly with acrylics, oils and inks. Inspired by pop and comic art as well as iconic figures from the past and present, Mac1 has been painting for 19 years, mainly with aerosol paint.
Nick Gentry presents a portrait in his very own recycling-upcycling technique that consists in painting with oil on a background made of floppy disks and cd-roms
And British visual artists Zoobs continues to incorporate different cultures and their representations into breath-taking iconic images that are often themed with death, love, pain, celebration and magic. His images, verging on the surreal, are haunting and sinister yet fashionably contemporary. There is no doubt that his take on a portrait of music and fashion icon Bowie, right up Zoobs’ street, will be strikingly edgy and sensual.
From the French scene, we are delighted to welcome Kan and Blo, from the ‘Da Mental Vaporz’ collective, as well as Hisham Echafaki and Jef Aerosol.
Initially from the south of France, Kan joined the Da Mental Vaporz crew in 2000. Blo, on his side, discovered graffiti at the age of 14, inspired by the urban landscape and hip-hop culture of his childhood. Following his first personal exhibition in 2003, Blo’s work evolved towards a more contemporary approach, yet remaining firmly attached to the codes of his graffiti background. Moving to Paris in 2005, he further developed his figurative style on a variety of mediums. Integrating various techniques and influences, the art of Blo earned him respect from the graffiti community as well as recognition in the contemporary art world, allowing him to display his work in prestigious venues such as Paris’ Grand Palais in 2008.
Jef Aerosol is a main proponent of the first generation of French street artists who started working on the streets in the early 1980s. A legend himself, he will take on the challenge of paying tribute to the British legend David Bowie in the recognisable stencil and collage style that he is famous for.
From the rest of the world, the exhibition will showcase works by the infamous Los Angeles based Mr Brainwash, moniker of Paris-born Thierry Guetta who became famous thanks to Banksy’s film ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ and who was introduced to the London public in the summer of 2012 when he took over the Old Sorting Office to present his large-scale installations, murals and stencils largely inspired by the iconic pop culture imagery.
Canada will be represented by painter André Monet, who blends collage of old newspapers and books, and paints portraits over this specially-made background. The traits of his characters are recreated with such precision that one might see a realistic photography arising from a distance. This new technique reveals the strengths and weaknesses of individuals appearing on the canvases.
In the mixed media category, the Italian sculptor Marco Lodola, who participated in the Venice Biennale several times in the past, will illuminate the exhibition with a neon and aluminium sculpture depicting David Bowie as Aladdin – the alter ego hero of his sixth album ‘Aladdin Sane’.
Joe Black, the London genius who describes himself as an ‘image-maker’ rather than an artist, features in the exhibition as well. Famous for his portraits made out of toy soldiers, badges, Lego and other small mundane objects, he will present a portrait of David Bowie entirely made with painted test tubes, proving once again that his ingenuity and resourcefulness are endless when it comes to depicting figures that inspire or have inspired him.
Finally, the most famous Scottish contemporary sculptor, the Royal Academician David Mach, who works with postcards, coat hangers, match-heads and pin-heads to create monumental installations, sculptures and collages, will create a new piece for the purpose of this exhibition, and to render homage to one of the most beloved singers and musicians of our times.
Jean-David Malat is director of the international Opera Gallery group; operagallery.com
David Bowie Is, V&A 23 March to 11 August 2013
The many faces of David Bowie, Opera Gallery London 20 June to 31 August 2013. After London the exhibtion will tour in Opera Gallery venues in Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul.