In June last year I installed my Doctorate painting exhibition at UEL. I don’t like to say it was about David Bowie’s song Life on Mars, though not because it wasn’t (it was) but because I’m not sure it was “about” anything. It was more an attempt to capture some kind of essence that I felt Bowie represents. One of the things I love about Bowie from that song onwards is how he captures the meaninglessness of modern life but fills his songs with meaning. The meaning, however, is not something easy to put your finger on. It is more like a feeling of yearning and hope in the face of… well yes meaninglessness.
You might think I’m being pretentious but this depth of feeling is what keeps us as humans dreaming that we can ultimately connect through creative experience.
That is partially what Bowie means to me. He can be viewed as the personification of Camus’ urge to live life as fully and creatively as possible in response to the Sisyphusian struggles we all face. But let me be clear I knew none of this when, in the Spring of last year, my friend Harry Pye suggested that we start to paint pictures of David Bowie together with another painter Gordon Beswick. We had great fun painting and chatting on Tuesday afternoons. Harry soon produced some lyrics for a song called Is David Bowie Happy. I thought perhaps this title was a reference to the exhibition David Bowie Is but I’ve never asked Harry. The phrase doesn’t occur in the song though.
Bowie talked about trying to define a new language in pop music. So when it comes down to it he was actually an Artist and sometimes said if no one bought his music he’d go back to being a painter. A painter is someone who thinks through making the work and I think that is another reason I love Bowie. I hope that is what Harry and I have done through the song. We’ve kind of melded our minds through embracing David Bowie completely. This version of the tune is produced and Arranged by Rob Jones, who more than anyone I’ve collaborated with, understands the mystery of finding out through simply making recordings. I think it’s the closest we could get to having Gus Dudgeon do what he did to Space Oddity for Bowie.
I recently found a brilliant interview with Marcel Duchamp in which he declares the artist to be a "mediumistic being, who in a labyrinth beyond time and space, tries to find his way out through a clearing". This, for my money is what drives us to make art and Bowie was certainly to be found wandering those shadowy hallways and dead ends. As I said at the beginning I really had no idea quite why, in June, I was so driven to make a show all about Bowie and Life on Mars but I'm still reflecting upon the results now.