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Derek Boshier: David Bowie And The Clash
When Ken Russell introduced new British artist Peter Blake to the wider world with his 1962 film Pop Goes The Easel, another artist profiled alongside him was Derek Boshier.
Now living in LA, Boshier was a contemporary of the next generation behind Blake – studying alongside David Hockney, RB Kitaj and Allen Jones at London’s Royal College Of Art.
He first met future Clash frontman John Mellor (aka Joe Strummer) while he was teaching at the Central School Of Art And Design in the early 1970s.
“I remember him sat in front of the class with a wooden guitar singing Blowin’ In The Wind,” says Boshier. “He would say, ‘Call me Woody’ because his hero was Woody Guthrie, the same as Bob Dylan.”
At the height of punk a few years later, Boshier met his former pupil outside an Oxford Street shoe shop, hailing him by his old moniker, Woody.
“He replied, ‘I’m called Joe now,’” says Boshier.
Soon Boshier was approached by the band’s manager – another former art school pupil, Caroline Coon – who offered him the chance to design The Clash’s second song book.
His brief was very simple: do what you want.
“The only input Joe had was that he wanted a nuclear warning symbol on the front, so I put it together with a skull,” says Boshier.
Inside he created line drawings to link with Strummer’s lyrics, including some mock fashion images mixing policemen and evening dresses for Julie’s In The Drug Squad – some of which are on display in the gallery.
Boshier’s most famous musical collaborations were with David Bowie.
The connection first came when photographer Duffy approached Boshier at the Hayward Gallery show he had curated called Lives.
“Duffy was a famous fashion photographer. He had designed the cover for Bowie’s Aladdin Sane,” says Boshier. “He phoned me while I was doing the exhibition saying he had a good friend who he knew I would get on with. I thought I was being set up for a blind date!”
Both Bowie and Boshier had studied mime and shared an interest in images of falling figures.
The 1979 album Lodger front cover was set up to look as if Bowie was falling through space, when in fact he was laying on a specially designed trestle table.
Some of Boshier’s original designs are in the exhibition, alongside two other Bowie-related works, including models for an unused stage set for the 1983 Serious Moonlight tour.
“David told me, ‘Think big band, think punk,’” says Boshier. “My brief was to forget about practicalities.”
Unfortunately, the complicated designs were quashed by the set builders.
The other paintings date from 1980, when Boshier was spending a summer in an East Village loft in New York’s Bowery and Bowie dropped in while performing as John Merrick in the Broadway show The Elephant Man.
“He told me about rehearsing for The Elephant Man and how difficult it was,” says Boshier. “He went into this pose which he had to keep for three or four minutes at a time on stage where he twisted his left arm and face.
“I thought, ‘I have got to paint this.’”
Boshier filled in the background with a jungle scene, taking inspiration from Merrick’s early life as a sideshow attraction, supposedly plucked from the jungle, using plants he found in the loft space.
Bowie kept a full-length version of one of the three paintings, none of which has been displayed before.
As a former pupil and tutor at art school, Boshier believes the experiences played a big part in the social changes that took place in post-austerity Britain.
“If you were working-class in the late 1950s, unless you were a semi-genius, you couldn’t get to university,” says Boshier. “The only place you could get an education was art school. People’s whole lives were changed by going there.”
* Derek Boshier: David Bowie And The Clash is at Pallant House Gallery, North Pallant, Chichester, until Sunday, October 7. For more information call 01243 774557.
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