Sailor’s Journals Indexed, Part 5: Visual Artists and Their Works

Bowie spent a lot of time visiting galleries in 1998 to 2003, especially in NYC and London. Sailor’s Journals include numerous snapshots of the paintings and artists.

After his death, the estate put many of the works he had bought throughout his years of collecting for auction at Sotheby’s. I think there were several reasons for this. They were doing no good in the vaults. For the younger artists, having a piece that once belonged to David Bowie auctioned at Sotheby’s would be of tremendous benefit to their careers, even more so than having it donated to a museum. They now have a sales history at Sotheby’s and an identity as an artist Bowie collected.

But for the two masterpieces, it’s different. In the journals, Bowie simply answers a fan question that it is true he has a Tintoretto and a Rubens, but doesn’t name them. I don’t know if the Rubens was auctioned. If it is very small, it might have been kept in case of a sudden need for portable wealth, who knows?

This list includes fashion designers and architects.
A.J., 3/29/99
Armitage, Kenneth, 3/10/03
Body Parts, 10/29/98
Boshier, Derek, 5/17/99, 5/9/00
Bowie’s art works: 8/24/98; 9/10/98; Mini Cooper 9/14/98
Branca, Glen, 1/24/99, 5/1/18/01

Brown, Cecily, 2/8/00
Burne-Jones, 3/10/03

Chapman Brothers, 10/22/98
Chalmers, Catherine, 5/9/00
Charles, Michael Ray, 5/17/99, 12/16/99, 10/1/00
Chertavian, Kate [Bowie’s curator/mentor in collecting], 9/5/98 
Cornell, Stephen, 9/14/98, 9/17/98, 9/21/98
Currin,  10/29/98
Dada, 10/29/98; 2/20, 26/99
Dali, 3/10/03

David, Jacques-Louis, 9/16/98
Death of Marat, 9/16/98
De Meuron, Pierre,  9/22/98
Diarchy, 3/10.03
Dix, Otto,  10/29/98
Duffy, Brian, 5/9/00
Eames, Charles,  9/14/98
Eames, Ray, 9/14/98
Eddy, 10/4/00
Emin, Tracy, 3/10/03
Epstein, Jacob, 2/24/99
Fragonard, Honore, 1/27/99

Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan album cover, 5/17/99
Freud, Lucien, 3/10/03

Garnett, Sandy, 7/30/00
Gleason, Matt, 11/20/98

Goldsworthy, Rupert, 11/20/98
Hamilton, Page, 5/9/00, 5/16/00
Hockney, Peter,3/10/03

Hawkinson, Tim, 10/29/98
Herzog, Jacques, 9/22/98
Hirst, Damien 8/23/98; 9/10/98, 9/14/98, 9/17/98
Hockney, 5/17/99, 8/15/99, 5/9/00, 3/10/03
Hume, Gary, 3/10/03
Horne, Rebecca, 10/29/98
Hunt, Holman 9/6/98

Indoor Flag, 9/16/98
Johns, Jasper,  9/16/98
Jones, Allan, 5/17/99, 5/9/00
Kersel, Martin, 10/29/98
Lanyon, Peter, 5/22/00
Light of the World  9/6/98

Hunt_Light_of_the_World
A poster of Holman Hunt’s Light of the World was hung, as it was in so many homes at the time, in Bowie’s grandmother’s house.

Loebs, Damian  12/6/00
Longos, 1/18/01
Man Ray, 1/29/99
McQueen, Alexander, 9/5/98, 9/16/98  

Moore, Thurston,  10/22/98
Moss, Kate, 8/31/98
Men in Cities, 1/18/01
Mugler,  Thierry, 1/23/99
Nauman, Bruce,  10/29/98
Nitsch, Rudolf, 8/23/98
Ockenfeld, Frank, 3/29/99

Odd Nerdum, 1/30/00
Ofili, Chris, 10/29/98, 5/17/99
Oursler, Tony, 11/20/98, 1/24/99, 5/16/00
Picabia,  8/24/9;
Picasso,  8/24/98; 9/10/98
Pollock, Jackson,1/9/01
POP, 9/10/98

Rubens, Peter Paul, 3/10/03
Rock Drill, 2/24/99
Rock, Mick, 1/17/01
Rodin, Auguste,  2/24/99
Saville, Jenny, 9/24/00
Schiele, Egon, 9/6/98

Schnabel, Julien, 11/15/1998
Schwarzkogler, Rudolf,  8/23/98

Sensation (Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection show), 9/21/99, 9/29/99
Smith, Paul,  8/31/98
Stuff,  9/10/98
Thurlow,  10/29/98
Tintortteo, Jacopo,* 3/10/03

Turks, Gavin,  9/10/98,  9/14/98, 9/16/98, 10/22/98
Underwood, George, 11/5/02
Union Jacket 1,  9/16/98
Warhol, Andy, 8/25/98
Yoneda, Tomoka, 2/2/00
Young Americans II (Saatchi’s), 9/17/98, 10/29/98

*About the Tintoretto: From Artnet:

“The Angel foretelling Saint Catherine of Alexandria of her martyrdom (late 1570s) was acquired for £191,000 by a European collector during Sotheby’s sale of the late musician’s collection last Thursday. Immediately after making his purchase, the collector announced his plans to place the work on a long-term loan to the Rubenshouse Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, in the hope that there, the piece will be admired by many.

“Through this act of generosity the collector sought to pay dual homage to the remarkable influence that Tintoretto and Venetian painting had on Belgian artist Peter Paul Rubens, and to the legendary musician who formerly owned the work. The gesture is intended to honor Bowie’s life-long love of and generosity towards museums and cultural institutions.”

Corrections are most sincerely welcomed. This project got a little out of hand, shall we say. I am deeply grateful to Noel Barretto for his help in improving Part 1.

Sailor’s Journal Indexed, Part 3: Writers and Publications

More like a half a droplet in the seas than the tip of the proverbial iceberg, here we have the few authors and works mentioned in the brief Sailor’s Journals. There aren’t quite as many authors and books in Sailor’s Journals as you might expect. On the erstwhile bowienet there was a section entirely devoted to books.

Here are the ones that are in the journal entries (some appeared both places, and I used them years ago in What’s on Bowie’s Bookshelves?”).

Several poets, for example, Kymbali, Imani, and Ono, could go into other categories as well, such as performing artists. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” could have gone with the songs but since its author, Gil Scott-Heron, was associated with the Last Poets and taught literature and creative writing, I put it here.

Writers

Ackroyd, Peter,  1/4/01
Addison, Joseph,   4/26/01, 4/30/01
Albee, Edward,   4/30/01
Amis, Martin,  1/9/01
Ball, Hugo,  2/26/99
Balzac, Honore de,   2/24/99
Beckett, Samuel,  1/29/99
Bouvier, Simone,  1/29/99
Bowles, Paul,  6/14/99
Burroughs, William,  8/28/98, 10/29/98, 6/14/99
Collings, Matthew,  9/8/01
Crowley, Aleister,  2/24/99 

Finch, Charles,  11/9/98, 11/20/98 
Fowles, John,   1/9/01
Gleason, Matt, 11/20/98
Hitchens, Christopher,   10/05/04
Huysman, A.E.,   1/29/99

Imani,  3/29/99
Kafka, Franz,    11/12/01
Kymbali [Craig],    3/29/99
Lakshmi, Padma,   9/26/06
Last Poets,   3/10/99
Maupassant, Guy de,   1/29/99
McEwan, Ian,   1/9/01
Norman, Howard,   3/10/99

Ono, Yoko,  8/23/98
Paine, Thomas,  10/8/99
Rushdie, Salman,   9/26/06
Sartre, Jean Paul,    1/29/99
“Spectator, Mr.”,     4/26/01, 4/30/01
Steele, Richard,       4/26/01
Stephens, Chris,      5/22/00
Tate, Greg,       3/10/99, 3/29/99
Thomson, Rupert,     1/4/01
Tzara, Tristan,        1/29/99; 2/20/99, 2/26/99
Vonnegut, Kurt,   1/17/00
Waters, Sarah,     10/05/04
Wilde, Oscar,      2/24/99

Publications

21 Publishing*,      9/8/98, 5/22/00
Amis memoirs,     1/9/01
Atonement,    1/9/01
Backstage Passes,   11/20/98
Bird Artist,  7/13/99
Black Dwarf & Private Eye, 11/21/98
Blimy*,      9/8/98
Book of Revelation,   1/4/01
Canard,   11/21/98
Child in Time,  The    1/9/01
Clothes Thru Time,      1/24/00
Coagula,   11/9/98, 11/20/98
Collection of Dada books,   2/20/99
Conspiracy of Paper, A,        7/21/03

Diaries of Nathan Adler,      8/23/98
Fingersmith,     10/05/04

Glam,   1/17/01
Insult (Thomson),    1/4/01
London (Ackroyd),    1/4/01
Magus, The,      1/9/01
Modern Painters,  11/15/98, 11/20/98; 2/24/00
Most Art Sucks,    11/9/98, 11/20/98
Names (Delillo),   1/9/01
[National] Lampoon,   4/26/01
Omni,     2/20/99
Peter Lanyon: At the Edge of Landscape, 5/22/00
Peter Rabbit,   5/5/04
Play about the Baby, The,   4/30/01
Private Eye,   4/26/01
Punch,   5/1/00
Olivia (children’s book series),   5/5/04
Road to Mars (Idle),  9/29/99
Rolling Stone, Feb 1971,   11/27/98; 2/1/00
Scientific American: “Science and the Citizen: Revenge of the Wimps”: March 1999,                   2/23/00
Spectator,  4/26,30/01
Talk 21,  9/10/98
“Revolution will not be Televised, The,” 3/29/99
Trial of Henry Kissinger,    10/05/04

“Wow or Gee,”     9/8/98

*Founded by Bowie, 1998, 21 Publishing‘s titles include Matthew Collings’ Blimy, It Hurts, and Art Crazy Nation; Chris Stephen’s  Peter Lanyon: At the Edge of Landscape, and Bowie’s collaboration with William Boyd,  Nat Tate – an American artist 1928-1960, as well as four other books or anthologies.

mod
Bowie was on the editorial board of Modern Painters. This copy is from Summer 2000 and features an article by Matthew Collings, who appears in Sailor’s Journals. Modern Painters was bought in 2003 by Louise Blouin and moved to the US in 2006. It still remains, or part of the title still does: Blouin Modern Painters.

This is what one wall of a personal library of 22,000 books looks like — George Vanderbilt’s library at Biltmore House. He sent most of his books to a bookbinder who replaced their bindings with leather, which is why they all look alike. Vanderbilt’s journals for 1875 to 1914 includes a list of  3,159 “Books I Have Read.” These do not include reference books.biltmore library

No one knows (yet) how many books Bowie had. I’ve read much higher figures than 22,000. I hope his library is being catalogued.

Echoes of Cocteau

I was flipping through Jean Cocteau by Patrick Mauries recently and came across this photo of the character Death in his film, Orphée, based on the myth of Orpheus, a poet so in love with Death he follows her into the underworld.

orphee_4116152

Here we have Death (María Casarès) [photo by Roger Corbeau/Ministère de la Culture/AFDPP].

I was reminded of Thomas Jerome Newton in his homeland costume, and applied a black and white filter:

man-wfte

Not exact by any means, and I don’t know whether Nic Roeg or Bowie had any ideas about Newton’s alien garb. Costume designer May Routh says she wanted the water tubes but conceived them as more like lace; the special effects team interpreted the design differently, making the tubing more substantial.

We know that Bowie was interested in Cocteau’s surrealistic imagery. Heroes‘s “Beauty and the Beast” is a nod to the Cocteau  film La Belle et la Bête, starring Jean Marais, who also played the lead role in Orphée.

Cocteau and Marais were lovers; Cocteau said of his young man: 

“It does not depend only on sensual grace. It flows from the child still at the heart of the mature man. That is the true source of the expressive beauty of his eye, of the way he looks at you, imposes his physical presence.”

Cocteau could as well be describing Bowie.

Cocteau was a sensualist, a painter of murals for churches, and fascinated by angels, who typically were modelled as beautiful boys, like this one, the Angel of the Annunciation at Notre Dame de France in London, England, photographed by Victoria Emily Jones. See her essay and photographic tour of  Notre Dame de France in London, England by clicking the link.

The Annunciation.
©Victoria Emily Jones

What came to mind: the “Look Back in Anger” video.

It goes beyond angels, however. One minute into the video, Bowie rises quickly from his bed,  in much the same way that the poet’s wife is commanded to rise from hers at the minute mark  in this snippet from Cocteau’s Orphée.

When Bowie rubs his hand across the painting, his skin takes on a grotesque appearance as if his face is now a painted facade disturbed. Now, in another film of Cocteau’s, La sang d’un Poète (The Blood of the Poet), a sculptor has a similar fright.  First he does some sketches, but the mouth starts to move. He tries to rub it out, but it transfers itself to his hand. He tries to rid himself of it by pressing it to the mouth of a statue (movie stills).

The statue entices him to break through a mirror to a different dimension and gives him a gun to kill himself. Instead he returns to his reality, and smashes the sculpture.

Smashing through mirrors is common to several Cocteau’s films. Go back to the Orphée  snip and view the last frames.

Tormented Bowie places his angel painting in front of a mirror so he will not have to see what has become of his face, but can’t resist studying his new ugliness. He doesn’t manage to break his mirror or spell and ends up crawling under his bed, instead.

When the artist of Blood of a Poet is on the other side of the mirror, he encounters some strange scenes (movie stills , like this one, featuring a transvestite, Barbette, who Cocteau later wrote about:

barbettesang

That oppish bullseye and strange haired figure is vaguely reminiscent of the set and weird woman of “Strangers When We Meet.”

strangers

Here’s another image from Orphée. Flanked by two biker angels, the Poet and Death stroll through the Underworld:underworld

Could this have been an inspiration for the Village of Ormen of “Blackstar”?village-of-orman

Finally there is one more odd Cocteauian echo for today:the similarity to this photograph of Jean Marais dressed by Chanel for Cocteau’s Oedipe Roi:

marais

to this one from Outside: fishman

 

I don’t know what to make of this.

 

Post-pastoral Bowie

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

There’s a great scene in The Man Who Fell to Earth when Mary Lou [Candy Clark] takes Thomas Jerome Newton [Bowie] to church with her down in Artesia, NM. The pastor announces that a song sheet for a special hymn is in the pews which the congregation will sing in honor of their special guest who has come all the way from England. Mary Lou beams, and Tommy, the alien — but not the Englishman — squirms. He should know “Jerusalem,” William Blake’s words set to music by William Parry, but he doesn’t. And when he tries to sing, well, no, it is best he tries just the tiniest bit.

At the turn of the 19th century, “dark Satanic mills” were already part of the English scene, but an idealized vision of a pastoral England lingers. And through the 1970s, this persisted even in rock and roll lyrics by guys who had grown up in some of the least pastoral spots on the island, Liverpool, for example, or post-war London. Consider:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed ma’am/It’s just the sprinkling of the May Queen”

“Jennifer Juniper, rides a dappled mare,
Jennifer Juniper, lilacs in her hair.”

“Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun. . .”

“In the sunshine of your love. . .”

“Out here in the fields/I farm for my meals/I get my back into my living.”

You would never mistake any of these lines for a Bowie lyric.

Bowie doesn’t do the pastoral thing. He doesn’t compare girls to rainbows and he isn’t lamenting the loss of days at Strawberry Fields.

In his earliest days he tried it on. In “Memory of a Free Festival,” “The children of the summer’s end/Gathered in the dampened grass,” but it just didn’t fit.

Away with the wavy locks and on with the paint and spandax.

He never did look quite right in blue jeans. Charcoal jeans, yes. He could wear anything that stretched, tailored suits, socks with sandals, Alexander McQueen — but never blue jeans, especially not bell bottoms. And when he tried to look outdoorsy, Bowie looked like a demented Von Trapp brat, kept hidden in the cellar, a problem not even Maria could solve. By the Wall

The animal world is different for Bowie than for his immediate predecessors. No “Sheepdog, standing in the rain/Bullfrog, doing it again” no “swans that they live in the park,” not even any wild horses.

Instead, there’s a “pink monkey bird,” “tigers on vaseline,” diamond dogs, and if you insist on real beasts, you get “Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.” There’s one exception that comes to mind, and trust Bowie to do the best animal image in English rock and roll: the dolphin of “Heroes.” (I have to qualify that so I can exclude Patti Smith’s “Horses.”)

The natural world is best viewed from a distance: “Here am I, flashing no colour/Tall in this room overlooking the ocean”; but much has been lost: “Once there were mountains on mountains/And once there were sunbirds to soar with.” Far more to Bowie’s taste is the perfect interior [internal?] environment:

Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live
Blue, blue

Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
Blue, blue

Oh yes, there is the album Outside, which has not a thing to do with the great outdoors, and its song “A Small Plot of Land” about the one who “swings through tunnels,” clawing his way. This album’s world is about as far from Blake’s “Jerusalem” as you can get.

But then again, Bowie is not just a post-pastoral Englishman, he is the reluctant Earthling, the post-terrestrial man.

I’ve written before about Bowie’s train trips. Would he not have seen a great deal of loveliness crossing the USA in the mid-1970s, the years he refused to fly?

Only if he had been awake during the day. But nights are his. And from the observation car of the Super Chief, what Bowie would have seen were stars. Stars and stars and more stars. From Chicago to LA there is a whole lot of nothing — no towns, no lights — just stars.

That’s where Bowie’s imagination is grounded: in the heavens, or emptiness of space, infinity, where none has gone and from where we came.

It’s one of the great constants in his work. Shall I count the stars?

The stars are out tonight. Moondust will cover you.

Lambeth to Brixton, or Poetry and Painting, Sound and Vision, William Blake, and The Institute of Imagination

David Robert Jones was born within walking distance of the house where William Blake (1757-1827) did much of his greatest work.

London seems a remarkably small town in some ways: so much has happened there in so little space over so many hundreds of years’ time. South of the Thames River, at Hercules Road, London SE1, between 1791 and 1800, William Blake created the Songs of Experience, Europe and America (among other prophetic books), and Newton and Nebuchadnezzar.

The man who would be David Bowie was born about three miles down the road at 40 Stansfield Road, Brixton, London, SW9 9RZ on January 8, 1947.

At age 10, in 1767, Blake started  Mr Pars’ drawing school in the Strand and then in 1772 became an apprentice engraver to  James Basire of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. At age 11, David Jones went to Bromley Tech to study art, leaving five years later to start work at Hirst Advertising, 98 New Bond Street, London, not far from Lincoln Fields.

There the similarities end.

Blake scrambled for enough cash to maintain himself and wife and buy what he needed for his engravings and paintings,  unknown and unappreciated. But likely he came close to satisfying himself, creating his own system of belief, was never “enslav’d by another Man’s,” and preserved his visions in ways which honor both language and image, joining the sound of poetry and the meaning of its words and the sensuality and immediacy of his visual art.

Jones became Bowie and achieved fame and riches. I don’t mean to suggest that he is not a man who has achieved great things. But I think he never got to where he wanted to go. I think he wanted very much to join sound and vision, but it didn’t happen. He could imagine it, using elements of Kabuki or mime, costuming, and so on to add visual interest to the music, but one problem, of course, is that performance is fleeting. My choice, based solely on youtube snippets, of the most visually interesting tour is Sound and Vision. Even on my monitor, the interaction of the giantess Louise Lecavalier and Bowie is impressive.

For recordings, Outside came closest, perhaps, but appeared after the transition from 12″ by 12″ LP format with heavy cardboard opening out to a 24″ by 12″ canvas and capable, even unboxed, of including glossy 8″ x 10″ photographs and a 24″ by 36″ poster (I’m thinking of the Beatles’ White Album) to the shoddy little 5.5″ square CD case with the flimsy little booklets of thin paper. The artwork of Outside is essentially ruined by being so shrunk that even a magnifying glass doesn’t help with the lyrics.

Bowie’s Blakean Mind

Bowie thought in Blakean mode — Blakean in the synathesia sense (like one who hears or smells colors). In 1978, Bowie told Melody Maker‘s Michael Watts about his  “peculiar system of notation for the musicians”:

“I draw the music, the shape that it should look like. I have to draw the feeling because I can’t explain it. The musicians who have worked with me have now learned the language.”

Twenty years later he told The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman:

“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 in drawing would produce a breakthrough. . . .I’ll combine sounds that are kind of unusual, and then I’m not quite sure where the text should fall in the music, or I’m not sure what the sound conjures up for me. So then I’ll go and try and draw or paint the sound of the music. And often a landscape will produce itself.  . . . . Suddenly I’ll realize where things go in the music.”

So there we are. Except for one odd little connection.

The Institute of Imagination, Blake House, London

If you search “David Bowie” + “William Blake,” you are going to find an annoying number of hits for Bowie’s description of artist Tracy Emin as “William Blake as a woman, written by Mike Leigh.” Keep going though and you’ll find a most peculiar invitation to join the Institute of the Imagination [IΟI]. Membership is limited to 100 people. The cost is £1ooo to join and then another £1000 each year for dues. Three patrons are listed: Bowie, Prof. Chris Orr RA, and Sir Stephen Tumim.

Tumim was a judge who campaigned vigorously for prison reform. He also oversaw the Arthur Koestler award for prisoners’ art, which he collected. The judge died in 2003.

Chris Orr is a visual artist who attended Ravensbourne College of Design, once the not so grandly named Bromley Technical College, Bowie’s old school. Of his work, Orr says,

“The basic physical nature of the print processes… allows one full control of the output. From the conception of an idea and the making of plates to their refinement through proofing and the printing of the edition, I was fully in control…I identified strongly with William Blake: being married to Catherine, having the press in the house, publishing and distributing the results. My homage to Blake also takes in his capacity as an inventor. In pursuit of my own poetic vision I have discovered, or re-discovered, printing processes such as counter-proofing and relief printing that can serve to liberate creativity.”

The closest connection with Blake is via the IΟI’s founder and director, Tim Heath, who studied math, practiced law, and is now a writer and designer. Heath is also Chairman of the Blake Society and owns the only building still standing where Blake once lived, Blake House, 17 South Molton Street, London — which also happens to be the headquarters for IΟI.

He is still active. In 1997 he was awarded a grant “to create the definitive Blake Website on the Internet.” I think the University of Georgia’s Blake Digital TextProject wins that prize. More recently, in 2009, Heath was involved with “Songs of Imagination & Digitisation, an illuminated book for the digital age,” a project of if:book or The Future of the Book national charity in the UK (you may also check out “magical musical graphical digital fiction”).

As for surviving Patrons Bowie’s amd Orr’s support of  Director Heath’s IΟI, or for that matter the existential status of the IΟI, I haven’t a clue or £2000 to find out. But maybe I’ll send in a membership application, accompanied by an imaginary £2000, just for fun.

You know what else is amusing: Philip Pullman, one of my favorites, is the president of the Blake Society, which sometimes meets in the same digs as does (or did) Bowie’s IΟI. How tidy life sometimes seems.

Bowie on Books & the Gift of Curiosity

Bowie’s intelligence, the liveliness of his mind, his pursuit of knowledge and understanding, his respect for learning, his engagement with ideas, and his desire to share his enthusiasms are all reasons why he remains an intriguing and inspiring voice.

Today’s post collects some of Bowie’s observations on teaching and learning.

When he’s been asked what he would have been had he not been involved in music, his first response is a painter. But the second is revealing:

I’m not quite sure that “librarian” would have been quite the right word. Something where I was quite close to books and research. I love poring through books. I like the objects; as much as I like the Internet, I could never give up my library. Wife and the library, those are the two things that I probably would never give up.

Queried by Charlie Rose in the mid-1990s, Bowie mentioned a third career option: a teacher, especially one who introduced young people to new things. In 1996 he told Mick Brown of the Telegraph,

`If I’ve got a new rave about something I’ll just talk endlessly about it and I’ll explain where it comes from and how it started.’ If he had no artistic abilities of his own, he says, he would be `absolutely and perfectly satisfied to learn and teach’.

As a parent, he wants to see his children share his enthusiasm for learning.When his daughter was an infant, Bowie told interviewers that he wasn’t the type of dad who changed diapers, but he was very much looking forward to when she was ready for books.

◊◊

Bowie is not a passive receiver type reader, but one who wants to follow where the book he is reading is taking him. In the 1970s, his “very eclectic and very catholic” interests led him into some “dodgy areas.” When Mick Brown asked about the occult, Bowie noted that Station to Station was his

“step-by-step interpretation of the Cabbala, `although absolutely no one else realised that at the time, of course’ – which led, in turn, to `Grail mythology’ and then to an unhealthy interest in the role of black magic in the rise of Nazism. `Being seriously involved in the negative,’ as he puts it.”

During the “Earthling at 50” interview sessions, Bowie reflected that he was “too out of it” to see the connections between Himmler’s search for Glastonbury and Nazi racism. The older and wiser Bowie also advised that

“Nobody professing a knowledge of the black arts should be taken seriously if they can’t speak Latin or Greek.”

It isn’t at all surprising that as a born researcher, Bowie is an internet enthusiast. In 1999 he told Uncut’s Chris Roberts:

. . . a few years ago I started reading books on Gnosticism, a form of early Christianity, an interest I have. I found stuff on the Internet I could never get through in my lifetime. Prior to that, I’d have spent hours in a research library picking up bits and pieces which I’d have to take back, and which I could look at only one at a time. But this way, you can flip from aspect to aspect, drag up all the references you could want, looking at a 100 books a month. It’s beyond belief, a researcher’s dream.

Bringing it all together —  then letting it go: davidbowie.com

Bowie recognized early on that the internet could be a teacher’s dream as well, a way to share what he found intellectually and artistically exciting.  During its early years his website, davidbowie.com, provided an outlet for this desire. His journal entries commented on new artists he admired and what he was reading. He provided an intriguing book list, which unfortunately he did not update, and he largely abandoned the journal in summer 2003 (there were six posts in ’04, none in ’05, four in ’06,  and then there were none.).

During the late 1990s and early ’00s, Bowie also used the net as a means to be mentor and patron to young visual artists at the now defunct bowieart. Then he considered that work to be done:

For over seven years David Bowie and Bowieart has supported over 2000 emerging artists at a crucial time in their careers through successfully pioneering and encouraging online viewing of art, thirteen exhibitions ranging from solo shows to large group exhibitions, and sponsorship. The online model introduced by Bowieart in 2000 was revolutionary; and whilst it is still unique as a sponsorship site, it is no longer exceptional. There are now a number of comparable sites dedicated to showcasing artists work, and individual web presence is very accessible. The web environment is different from the one in which Bowieart launched, things have moved on and it is time for Bowieart to do so.

In 1999, Bowie considered adding archivist to his aspirations as well, telling Start Clark of Hot Press

“I have so much stuff, it’s unbelievable. Even in my out-of-my-nut stages I seem not to have thrown anything away. I probably have more than anyone else around – if that definitive book would ever come out. I think it’s much more likely I’ll end up archiving completely on the net. Just assemble the stuff that’s collected over the years. Like a presidential library – but for rock stars.”

Now he no longer seems to have any interest in adding to davidbowie.com.

Moreover, inexplicably, the links to archival materials that were a feature of the site in years past no longer function.

Very sad and very strange.


Sound & Vision: Bruegel and Bowie

Early in Nicolas Roeg’s film of Walter Tevis’s novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, Dr.  Bryce (Rip Torn), who will oversee the development of an intergalatic vehicle for Thomas Jerome Newton (Bowie), browses through a book of the paintings of Bruegel the Elder, paying particular attention to Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

If you didn’t know the title of the painting, you might miss Icarus. In the foreground a farmer plows, eyes to the ground, having missed the descent and plunge of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun. What we see are just his legs (bottom right).

Watching videos of the Reality Tour’s choreography of “Heathen (The Rays),” I was reminded of another painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind

when Bowie leaves the stage, one hand on Gail Ann Dorsey’s  shoulder (picture from helden.org.uk):

This happens at 4:40 in the following video.

Check out too around 3:00. You see what looks like flames. Later, around 5:18, you see them framed in Gothic church windows.

There’s another Bruegel painting showing this choreography, Children’s Games (click for Flash). In the upper right children are playing Blindman’s Bluff, approaching a self- parody by the artist of his Parable of the Blind. And check out the windows on the porch of the building center rear — same as what you see in the “Heathen (The Rays)” video.