In light of David Bowie’s recent passing, the internet community has rallied together to celebrate the life and legacy of a groundbreaking performer. The late musician was not revered just for his expansive repertoire of songs and albums, though. He was a creator in every sense of the word—one who transcended medium, pushed creative boundaries, and paved the way for other influential innovators. The release of Bowie’s most recent album and, just two days later, his untimely death thrust the Goblin King back into the media spotlight. The world knows him as a rockstar, a shape-shifter, and a wildly talented musician, but above all else, he was an artist. Not only did Bowie create an impressive amount of invaluable art over the span of four decades, he also appreciated and collected other peoples’ work.
”Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own,” the Thin White Duke told the New York Times in 1998, as recounted by a piece on ArtNet. “It can change the way that I feel in the mornings.” In the same article, he expressed admiration for visual artists such as Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, and Francis Picabia. The performer went on to say that while he appreciates Marcel Duchamp’s sense of humor, “there’s the other side of [Bowie] that thinks he did it just because he couldn’t paint.”
Bowie may have been ambivalent about urinal art, but he was devoted to aesthetic pursuits from early on in his career. In the lyrics to 1969’s “Unwashed and Slightly Dazed,” the starman references French painter, Georges Braque. In 1977’s “Joe the Lion,” Bowie pays homage to a Chris Burden performance art piece with the line “nail me to my car and I’ll tell you who you are.” The set design for the Diamond Dogs tour of 1974 was also partly influenced by the work of satirical German artist George Grosz.
In 2003, Bowie denounced reports that exaggerated his personal holdings “Last week I was approached by a magazine about doing an interview on my ‘Surrealist and PreRaphaelite’ collection,” as recounted by Nicholas Pegg’s The Complete David Bowie (2011). “This was news to me.”
He continued, “Yes, I do have a (too frequently remarked upon) Tintoretto and a small Rubens… but the majority of what I have are British 20th century and not terribly big names,” Bowie maintained. “I’ve gone for what seemed to be an important or interesting departure at a certain time, or something that typified a certain decade, rather than go for Hockneys or Freuds or whatever.”
You can read about the full extent of Bowie’s collection in the ArtNet piece, but some of the works in his private art collection reportedly include:
Peter Lanyon, Inshore Fishing (1952)
Bowie lent at least three pieces to abstract expressionist Peter Lanyon’s 2010 retrospective at Tate St. Ives. The performer’s art publishing press, 21 Publishing, released Peter Lanyon: At the Edge of Landscape in 2000.
Damien Hirst, Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting (1995)
Bowie once said, “My idea of a contemporary artist is Damien Hirst.”
The two artists eventually became friends, which resulted in a collaboration titled “Beautiful Hallo Space-boy Painting.”
Peter Howson, Croatian and Muslim (1994)
London’s Imperial War Museum, commissioned this work by the UK’s official war artist, and declined buying it due to its violent subject matter (two men raping a Muslim woman). Bowie immediately purchased the work for $27,000, and according to the New York Times, once described it as “the most evocative and devastating painting.”
William Nicholson, Andalucian Homestead (1935)
Bowie has apparently this landscape painting twice, once to London’s Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert gallery in 2011, and previously in 2006 for the Nicholson’s first American show in 80 years, held at New York’s Paul Kasmin gallery.