Rock On: David Bowie

7:00 AM

David Bowie, D Head V, 1998
Rock On

A freakish and creepy image, Bowie's fifth self portrait is a haunting look at what the artist perceived himself as. The crazed look on Bowie's face combined with the rushed feel of the paint strokes around the edges of the painting give off an unsettling feeling in the viewer like from a nightmare. This leads one to wonder why Bowie would want himself to be portrayed this way—it's not flattering or accurate to an outsider perspective. But is this what David Robert Jones thought of himself as? One can't truly know. But what we do know is that he had painted this himself and that says enough.

1998 is regarded as the end of Bowie's "Electronic Period," which involved progressive techno and rock sound. The previous year, Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and released the album, Earthling. The tracks in that album were tech-heavy and featured songs called "I'm Afraid of Americans" and "The Last Thing You Should Do." Some of the lyrics: "I'm afraid of Americans / I'm afraid of the world / I'm afraid I can't help it / I'm afraid I can't," and "What have you been doing to yourself / It's the last thing you should do / Nobody laughs any more / It's the worst thing you can do," I feel are a soundtrack for D Head V. These two pieces reflect a fear for the world and give off a crazed energy. Of course I realize that not all music is auto-biographical, but I still think that his dark lyrics speak to his personality and emotions.

Born in England, but like a lot of other musicians upon reaching fame, he moved to America. His eccentricity and flamboyancy perhaps did not initially fit the American aesthetic and was way too "out there" for some, but fit well with the art districts of the Europe like Berlin and Paris. While Bowie could pull large crowds in America, I feel like most of the U.S. was not ready for him at first and preferred less liberal, experimental, and expressive forms of music, perhaps leaving him to write a song like "I'm Afraid of Americans" and painting something like D Head V.

Not much explanation has been given from the artist about what he was trying to convey with his painting or what motivated him to create in this medium. His other works are just as eerie and expressive and feature other self-portraits, frightening faces in his D Head series, and portraits of his friend and punk rock star, Iggy Pop. The haunting paintings Bowie made in the late nineties seem to coincide with his unsettling lyrics from his album, Earthling.

This series of blogs aims to discuss various paintings by or of famous classic rock musicians and inspect the correlation between the figures and the art involving them.

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