A blue eye and a green eye, and a slick of blonde hair crowning angular facial features. That’s the canvas for the piercing stare of David Bowie, a look that captures the essence of the glam rock 70s and one that arouses so many emotional stirrings within the young and old.
If anyone embodied ‘enigma’, it was Bowie. Often referred to as an other-worldly alien, even NewsThump has joked that he’s now returned to his celestial home after a stretch amongst mere mortals. His uniqueness glittered his timeline from an early age, and the multi-rounder left his mark in all fields of art and performance, directly and indirectly.
A prodigy from Brixton
Even at pre-school, Bowie’s teachers noted his heightened sense of individuality, and how bright and adroit he was. Not only were his instrumental skills superior to those of his contemporaries, but he was also fluidly expressive in dance… well, he pulled off those moves in Dancing in the Street.
A legend awakened another; Elvis Presley’s music had inspired Bowie to further explore the power of music, and he then continued to study design, art and music at college.
An artist needs angst
During his time at Bromley Technical High School, David Bowie received a blow to the eye by George Underwood, who happened to be wearing a ring that would cause irreparable damage to David’s left pupil. Despite being left with defective depth perception, the same could not be said for his artistic dexterity. If anything, his impairment contributed to the full package of the Bowie icon, which we wouldn’t have had it not been for that punch. Incidentally, Underwood went on to design the cover artworks for Bowie’s first few albums.
An artist’s struggles
As is the case with most geniuses, Bowie’s career was preceded by a string of unsuccessful musical releases. From the very beginning, his artistic endeavours were misunderstood and ahead of his time. He spent most of the 60s entering and exiting a number of bands, mainly because of dissatisfaction and conflict. Later on, it was realised that this man’s sense of innovation rendered him a loner and a one-man show. Space Oddity in 1969 confirmed this as it propelled him as a solo artist, with ‘artist’ being the operative word. By this time, he had already dabbled in TV commercials, dance and the dramatic arts, including mime.
The many ch-ch-changing faces of Bowie
If there’s something that is consistent in Bowie’s persona, it is his constant state of flux as an image and artist. You could never keep up with his projects and experimentations. One minute he’s creating the Hype, the next he’s on stage as Ziggy Stardust with the Spiders from Mars. A few years later, he’s throwing a baby in the air amidst a lair of goblins in Labyrinth and playing a demure Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ. Scholars have dedicated entire journals and theses based on the ever-evolving looks that would consume him when on stage. It wasn’t just about the music, but the presentation of characters, colours and appearances that fabricated his performances. He was, ultimately, a performance artist and a story-teller who feared stagnancy, which led to his dismissal of Ziggy a few years later.
Illustrations by Helen Green
There are so many projects and niches that Bowie’s contributed towards or has been part of, that one could conclude that he had an omnipotent presence. Wherever you go, whatever you hear, whatever you see, you will eventually come across a shred or a few remnants of David Bowie. And whatever you come across or hear or have witnessed, you cannot deny that there was theatricality and grandeur in whatever he did. It may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but it was nonetheless haunting, inspiring and captivating.
What are your memories of David Bowie? Let us know in the comment section below.