There has been a David Bowie-shaped void in the souls of many since January 10. His death has affected so many worlds — music, film, art, fashion. The need to mourn publicly and collectively resulted in a large, impromptu shrine outside of his Lafayette Street apartment that required police presence to keep it orderly.
The way Bowie turned his decline and death into an art piece has been one of the most devastating things about it — the Blackstar album; the song, video, and stage production of Lazarus. He orchestrated the way his fans would process his death, and left the gift of his final album.
For those who still need to share their feelings and fandom with others, you can mourn amid some vivid visual tributes at the Stephen Romano Gallery in Brooklyn. This isn’t a simple homage to Bowie, though — it was created with specific intention and magickal thought behind it. Curator Stephen Romano explains how he spent time at the Lafayette Street shrine before and after visiting the incredible occult-themed art show, Language of the Birds, curated by Pam Grossman at NYU’s 80WSE Gallery. Soon after that, he was watching the video for the Bowie song “Width of a Circle” and musing about how Bowie had now joined Ziggy-era guitarist Mick Ronson in death. Romano said that the idea of Saint Bowie was for artists to “create objects to commune with Bowie — portals to the other side. Many of them were made specifically for this show.” He said that he asked the artists to create “reliquaries, ex votos, sigils, spirit photography,” and other occult-influenced ways to communicate with the next world.
Romano plans to donate the gallery’s profits from the show to Shadhika, a charity that works to keep Indian girls out of early marriage and sex trafficking. “I wanted the artists to be assured that, despite the fact the exhibition was organized at a commercial gallery, the context would remain one which would have integrity, as there seemed to be a proliferation of artists posting works for sale with Bowie’s image on Facebook and Instagram after his death,” he said. “While there is no connection between Bowie and Shadhika, I thought the cause was a very good one.”
One of the most striking pieces in the show is Lizz Lopez’s “Bowie Ouija Board,” a talking board embellished with outer space themes and Bowie’s well-known eye with the damaged cornea. The planchette is a star featuring the lyrics “Look up here, I’m in Heaven” from “Lazarus.”
Artist Nyahzul Blanco, who created a photomontage on aluminum, explained that Bowie “has been part of every moment of my life — dancing, art, everything.” Making her “Starman” (2016) piece helped her mourn and made her feel fulfilled after a period of creative blocks, which the making of this work removed. She, like Lopez, focuses on the musician’s eyes, but replaces one of them with the alien eye of Thomas Newton, Bowie’s character from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Tattoo artist Natan Alexander took a 1971 Aleister Crowley-inspired photo of David Bowie by Brian Ward as the basis for his illuminated glass and mixed media work “Everybody Knows Me Now” (2016). He also incorporated lyrics from “Lazarus” and imagery inspired by the Blackstar album. “The black star alludes to the deification of pop stars,” Alexander explained. “The black star and the black sun are about the power of art as a magical statement, which is a very thelemic idea. The way Bowie orchestrated his passing — it was a spell.”
Romano said that this idea of pop stars put on pedestals by fans is also explored by artist Colin Christian in his piece “Ziggy Played” (2016). A glitter-encrusted heart frames what appears to be a woman’s pubic area with a lightning bolt ripped out of the skin, exposing the bloody, raw flesh underneath. The piece visualizes the way fans can consume and destroy the objects of their adoration.
Lori Field contributed two works, “Heathen” and “China Girl,” both of which have the ephemeral look of pastels on chalkboard. “I envisioned him in a beatific state,” she said, “a state of nirvana.”
There are too many strong works in Saint Bowie to mention them all, but what comes through from the 30 or so pieces is the enduring influence Bowie has had on all branches of the arts. The show also captures the way his fans and fellow artists see him as more than just a man, but as a true Black Star, Starman, Space Oddity, and a Man Who Fell to Earth.