Look at the Table of Contents page for the Summer 2000 issue of Modern Painters and you’ll find an alphabetical list of the members of its editorial board. David Bowie is at the top. Do a little googling and you can find where most of the rest of these gentlemen went to school.
- William Boyd: Gordonstoun School, Moray, Scotland [where Duncan Jones went]; University of Nice, France; University of Glasgow, Scotland; Jesus College, University of Oxford, England.
- Martin Gayford: Cambridge; the Courtauld Institute of London University.
- Martin Golding: career: Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge.
- Grey Gowrie: Eton and Balliol College, Oxford; Harvard University.
- Jeremy Isaacs: Glasgow Academy; Merton College, Oxford.
- Howard Jacobson: Stand Grammar School, Whitefield; Downing College, Cambridge.
- Norbert Lynton: Birkbeck, University of London; the Courtauld Institute.
- William Packer: Windsor Grammar School; Wimbledon School of Art; Brighton College of Art
- Jed Perl: Columbia College; Skowhegan School, Maine.
- Michael Podro: Berkhamsted School, Hertfordshire; Jesus College, Cambridge; University College, London.
- Bryan Robertson: Battersea Grammar School
- Richard Wollheim: Balliol College, Oxford
- Patrick Wright: University of Kent; Simon Fraser University
David Bowie: Bromley Technical High School
What I find fascinating and so admirable about Bowie is that he educated himself by reading widely. How else could a person who left school at 16 with just one O level in Art hold his own among such a crew?
Bowie, along with almost everyone else, it seems, agrees that the 80s was not his finest musical decade. But he was certainly productive. He got to work on satisfying his intellectual curiosity, a pursuit incompatible with getting wasted.
In 1994 gallery owner Bernard Jacobson nominated Bowie to serve on the editorial board of the English art periodical, Modern Painters. On the March 31, 1998 Charlie Rose show, Jacobson and Modern Painters’ editor Karen Wright recalled Bowie’s “trial by fire” reception by the other members of the board. Initially the board members, influential art critics, academics, and curators, were skeptical that Bowie belonged in their world, but, as Jacobson noted “these heavyweight people” soon realized that he was well read and had something to offer.
Bowie’s first contribution was an extended — and rare — interview with then 86-year-old painter Balthus who has been widely quoted as once declaring “Balthus is a painter about whom nothing is known.” He agreed to talk to Bowie at home in Switzerland, where Bowie also lived.
Bryan Robertson: Battersea Grammar School
Interestingly, Bowie wasn’t the only non-degreed editor at Modern Painters in 2000. The Independent’s obituary for Bryan Robertson noted that:
Although, as [Robertson] later stressed, his parents gave him an affectionate childhood, the economic slump and resulting unemployment meant that family life was hard. In addition, he was a chronic asthmatic whose creative character was formed not on the playing fields of Battersea or even in the art galleries of the capital but, as Bryan would explain with a twinkle in his eye, in bed, where he read voraciously the great works of European literature and every art book he could get his hands on.
His immense knowledge and quizzical intellect stemmed from these early experiences, as did his belief that art at its best was both an inspiration and a refuge. “What I look for in art of any period,” he wrote later, “is a transcendent ability to soar above life and not be subjugated by it.”
I imagine Robertson and Bowie must have gotten on well together.