From his own paintings, hand-written lyrics and stage costumes to iconic photographic portraits and live shots in his various guises and as his many personas, the life and prodigious output of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century has long excited collectors.
David Bowie, the shape-shifting recording artist responsible for such era-defining albums as Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Low, was, it could be argued, a living, breathing work of art. Celebrated in 2013 as a style icon and cultural lightning rod by the V&A in London, whose major retrospective David Bowie Is… became the museum’s fastest-ever selling show, Bowie touched, and was touched by, creativity in all its forms — not simply music but also fashion, photography, video art and graphic design.
His penultimate album, The Next Day, released without warning in 2013, was heralded as a long-awaited return, and a serious return to form, and the critically acclaimed Blackstar, his 25th and final studio album, released just days before his death, now looks set to provide a fitting final act to a career that consistently defied categorisation.
Here, in tribute, we look back at some of the David Bowie lots auctioned by Christie’s over the years that offer insights into a truly remarkable and multi-faceted life.
Becoming David Bowie
This rare fold-out press release entitled ? Bowie dates from 1966, and features a statement from the 19-year-old David Jones, explaining why he has adopted the stage name David Bowie. ‘There are too many Davie Jones’s,’ he argues at one point. The lot was sold in November 2008 in the Punk/Rock sale at Christie’s New York.
In May 2004, an auction of Pop Memorabilia featured a lot comprising a collection of 14 petty cash receipts concerning expenses incurred during the Ziggy Stardust tour of the U.S.A., 22 September to 2 December, 1972.
These receipts were signed by various people involved in the tour, including Bowie’s first wife Angie, photographers Mick Rock and Lee Childers, guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, drummer Michael Woodmansey, Bowie’s personal hairdresser Sue Fussey, publicist Dai Davies, and manager Tony DeFries, among others. The lot also included a petty cash receipt signed by David Bowie while on holiday in Rome in 1973.
In 2007, a flamboyant stage costume worn by David Bowie in October 1973 was offered at auction. The costume was designed and made by Bowie’s friend Freddi Buretti, who Bowie had briefly tried to launch as the next Mick Jagger — a piece of conceptual art in itself. Bowie’s last public performance as Ziggy Stardust was a seminal July 1973 gig at the Hammersmith Odeon. This suit, however, was worn by the singer a few months later at the Marquee Club during the filming of a TV special, The 1980 Floor Show, shown on American television in November 1973.
Brian Duffy (1933-2010), David Bowie as ‘Aladdin Sane’, 1973. Sold in the British Modern and Contemporary Photography sale in May 2015. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive ™
Brian Duffy’s work with David Bowie in the Seventies incorporated eight major photo sessions and the artwork for three album covers. One of these, the image commissioned for the cover of the album Aladdin Sane, is possibly the single-most visible representation of the mercurial star; Aladdin Sane was an evolution of the Ziggy Stardust persona that had preceded it.
In June 2010 Christie’s sold a rare page of lyrics, handwritten by David Bowie, for Jean Genie, from the album Aladdin Sane, released in 1972. The 18 lines were in black ballpoint pen on lined notebook paper, signed and inscribed Jean Genie ’72 Bowie.
Two pages of working lyrics in David Bowie’s hand for the medley Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing Reprise from the album Diamond Dogs, 1974
In June 2011, Christie’s sold two pages of working lyrics in David Bowie’s hand for the medley Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing Reprise from the album Diamond Dogs, Bowie’s eighth studio LP, which was released in 1974.
The two sheets were used during the recording sessions for the medley at Olympic Studios in Barnes, south-west London, during the early weeks of 1974. On this album, Bowie was experimenting for the first time with the use of the ‘cut-up’ writing technique made famous by the American author William S. Burroughs, in which passages of prose or orthodox lyrics were literally cut up by the artist and then reassembled.
These manuscripts provide a rare insight into Bowie’s creative methods at a key moment in his career, when he had abandoned his Ziggy Stardust character and was about to move to America. In particular, it is fascinating to see that he appears to have added the most personal and revealing lines of the song, which formed the climax of the medley, as a spontaneous decision — in keeping with the almost intuitive way in which he created his material during this period.
Terry O’Neill (b. 1938), David Bowie, Diamond Dogs, London, 1974. Silver gelatin print, printed 2012. sheet: 40 x 29¾in. (101.5 x 76cm.)
This memorable image by Terry O’Neill was initially intended for the inside cover of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album, but was eventually used as a publicity shot (despite later being named as number two in a list of the greatest rock’n’roll photographs, compiled by a leading British music magazine).
O’Neill started to shoot with the dog sitting quietly beside Bowie, but suddenly the Great Dane got over-excited and reared six feet into the air barking madly. This terrified the life out of everyone in the studio, except Bowie, who didn’t even flinch. The shot was only used on the cover of later reissues of the album. This print was sold in The London Sale in September 2012 at Christie’s South Kensington.
Bowie the artist
David Bowie (1947-2016), D-HEAD IX, 1995. Signed and dated ‘Bowie 95’ (on the reverse). Acrylic on canvas. 9½ x 7½in. (24 x 19cm.)
In April 2007, Christie’s offered a selection of three pictures by David Bowie. Bowie attended art school and in later life his painting, sculpture and printmaking was shown in numerous exhibitions.
Andy Warhol was a huge influence on Bowie in the early Seventies and a song named after the artist appears on Hunky Dory. He went on to play Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 movie Basquiat.
Bowie was also a keen collector of art who owned works by Tintoretto and Rubens, and spoke of his admiration for the work of Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst, John Bellany, Erich Heckel, Pablo Picasso, Michael Ray Charles and many others. The video for his haunting single Where Are We Now?, released in January 2013, was directed by the multimedia and installation artist (and old friend) Tony Oursler.
As well as being influenced by artists, Bowie in turn inspired artists himself. In addition to video artists like Oursler, Alex Bagg, Guy Richards Smith and Nayland Blake, painters such as pop artist Guy Peellaert (who produced the cover for Diamond Dogs), Derek Boshier (who worked on the sleeves for Lodger, 1979, and Let's Dance, 1983), Helen Sadler and Rob Pruitt have all paid tribute to his pioneering example.
Once describing himself as ‘a mid-art populist and postmodernist Buddhist surfing his way through the chaos of the late 20th century’, David Bowie was an artist and a collector — of styles, objects, artworks and ideas that traversed the spectrum, from science fiction to Kabuki, drum’n’bass to German Expressionism.
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