In 1979, after making friends with the British photographer Brian Duffy, the artist Derek Boshier headed to his studio for what he’d thought was a blind date. “He said, 'You know Derek, I’ve got this friend, and now that I know you well, I know you two are really going to get on,'” Boshier recalled.
That's how Boshier found himself face to face with David Bowie. In a way, it was fate: Just a few weeks earlier, Boshier had been poking around an art bookshop in Covent Garden when the shopkeeper stopped him to say that Bowie had been making pit stops there, asking for Boshier’s catalogues and any information about his work. Bowie, it turned out, was looking to collaborate.
After the pair worked together on Bowie’s album cover for 1979's Lodger, the musician's appreciation for Boshier only grew. He’d travel to Paris for Boshier’s exhibition openings, invite Boshier to fly to his place in Berlin simply for lunch, and call up Boshier’s gallery repeatedly to ask if he could get a sneak peek of his shows early. And still, it was a surprise when in late 2015 Bowie emailed Boshier, who would go on to also work with The Clash on their second songbook, out of the blue to say how much he loved the artist's “doorstop” of a monograph, which had just been published by Thames & Hudson.
It was one of Bowie's few secretive goodbyes before his death a few weeks later.
In fact, Boshier had been planning to send Bowie a drawing of him by way of thanks for the kind words when he unexpectedly passed away. So now Boshier is turning his retrospective, up now at Night Gallery in Los Angeles through June 17, into something of a send-off for his old friend; he is calling it “On the Road,” a nod to Bowie’s appreciation for Jack Kerouac. The novel reportedly inspired a 15-year-old Bowie to buy himself a saxophone and start painting as soon as he’d finished reading, and Kerouac is featured alongside Bowie in one of the three towering portraits at the center of the show, which Boshier painted in the months after Bowie's death.
The works were a rare exercise in portraying Bowie without his input: in addition to the 1979's Lodger, for which Duffy photographed Bowie as a “fallen man” version of the Elephant Man, the play he was then starring in on Broadway, the duo also collaborated closely on Boshier's album cover for Bowie’s Let’s Dance LP, which has Bowie shadowboxing in front of a projection of a Boshier drawing,
Bowie's touch, though, was always light. As Boshier recalled, “David just said, 'Do what you like.'"
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