Mojo Ultimate Collectors Edition FEBRUARY 2007 - by Mat Snow


Halfway through recording the "jungle/fusion hybrid" album that would become 1. Outside, David Bowie ponders art school, grunge rock and the multimedia age.

"One thing I've always noticed driving around in this part of Switzerland is that there no flowers. It's relentlessly green in Geneva - they must use a special pesticide. But I'm told that in the German part they like flowers more..." David Bowie is in expansive, not to say whimsical mood. Now aged 47, he resides mostly in this well-tended nook in the untroubled heart of Europe. Matrimonial bliss appears to become him, and he says he no longer craves applause quite as keenly as yesteryear. Art for art's sake would seem David Bowie's motto now, and who better to accompany him in pursuit of the muse than the man who in the late '70s collaborated on the trio of Low, "Heroes" and Lodger, namely Brian Eno? The gleamingly pated agent provocateur to rock's aristocracy doesn't suffer slouching, and Bowie will confess that the end of a long day at the artistic coal-face finds him "a bit tired".

So what, exactly, are you up to?

Eno and I are working on five different projects at once. On some of them we're not quite sure how far the spin-offs will go, whether in the theatre or television, and we've formed a CD-ROM company. It's very exciting, but until I put my CD-ROM out I hadn't really realised how bad the stuff out there is. Mine's not bad, but all the others are concentrating on archive material, and the game aspects of Prince's are not enough. We should be going so much further. We're working on how far you can prod and push it, to make it do things it shouldn't do, which is what we're both good at.

Brian Eno has said of the musical collaboration that "some people think it sounds like jungle, and others think it's fusion. It's a hybrid, it's very dramatic." What is your input?

On the project I've worked on with Brian I've had the computer write lyrics based upon my lyrical input using the systems I've designed. If only William Burroughs had owned a computer, that's the sort of automatic writing he'd do now. I've also been working again with the dance group La La Human Steps, writing music for them to perform. And we've got hours of stuff to sort out - we've had no notion of marketplace in mind. It's an honest, healthy approach for an artist, to work only for yourself. I've suffered badly when I've pandered to the marketplace.

Tin Machine - one for the marketplace or one for you?

Tin Machine was the best thing I could have done to solve my mid-forties crisis - crises (laughs). It has its own credo and strange cult following. Bands like Pearl Jam immediately took our producer, young Tim [Palmer], and apparently they rehearse Heaven Is Here from our first album. And I've made a life-long friend in [guitarist] Reeve Gabrels.

Might you perform live again?

I'd love to do Lodger-period songs like Yassassin, and Teenage Wildlife live again. I like listening to my records a lot - I'm not going to lie (laughs) - and I compile cassettes of the obscurer stuff for the car. It would be wonderful to play live stuff I want to hear myself. Before, I tended to pander to the audience.

To the extent of a requests phone-line before 1990's Sound + Vision tour...

Yes (laughs).

The War Child exhibition features a Bowie-Eno wallpaper project...

Brian and I want to do a book of wallpapers, D R Jones & Son, Wallpaper Merchants, thinking what I might have done had I not been lucky and ended up in the, er, artistic field. We're looking for embossed plain white '50s wallpaper we can put our designs on and bind in a big plastic-covered book with brass screws from which you order. At the moment I'm also working on an eight-foot-by-six-foot painting based on computer design, an abstract piece about paint.

Is all this the return of David Bowie, multimedia person?

I don't like being considered a multimedia person - it sounds a bit Bond Street to me.

Does your eye defect influence your art?

It allows me to straddle the figurative and the avant-garde (laughs). My left eye is for the avant-garde, my right for highly traditional work. The left is Sarah Kent, the right Brian Sewell, as far as I can see - or rather, half-see (laughs).

You are almost unique among your generation of British rock stars in not having gone to art school.

No, but I took art for three years at Bromley Technical College. It's a historical fact that Peter Frampton's father was my art master. He set up the first art stream in the country at a technical college for that age group. I was there until I was sixteen. As soon as I left I went to London and joined an advertising agency, Nevendy Hirst in Bond Street, as a commercial artist, which I loathed. I had romantic notions of artists' garrets, though I didn't fancy starving. Their main product was Ayds slimming biscuits, and I also remember lots of felt-tip drawings and paste-ups of bloody raincoats. And in the evenings I dodged from one dodgy rock band to another, looking for one who'd let me write the songs.

Frampton encouraged my painting and sculpture, and that led me to performance art and Dada. I still go to every gallery and opening I can. You keep running into abandoned schools of art, like The St Ives School in the '40s. I like David Bomberg and his disciple Frank Auerbach, that particular kind of British art fringe. Bomberg was a member of the Vorticists who fell out with Wyndham Lewis. Bomberg was a loner, evolving his own abstract expressionism and influencing Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

I also like landscape painters like Ivon Hitchens. My tastes are too catholic for my own good - I like almost anything with interesting ideas and some soul. I like Damien Hirst a lot - I really do, sir! I find it emotive.

What do you collect?

I love the Renaissance, and the first things I collected were Italian old master sketches - back in the '70s they were surprisingly cheap. And there are some new artists I like an awful lot and collect. They're all British and I'd feel traitorous not to mention them: the sculptors Richard Smith, Ivor Abrahams and Glynn Williams, and the painters John Virtue, Derek Boshier, John Bellany, Maurice Cockrill and William Tyler... But, like Reeves Gabrels says to me (adopts cigar-chewing New York accent), talking about art is like dancing about architecture...