Many know him for his music and style, but David Bowie was also a visual artist. Among his works from the 1970s were a series of silkscreen prints titled The Arcane Series.
Imbued with dark, moody colours, the prints bear symbolic elements drawn from tarot, kabbalah and the occult – a pair of twisted figures labelled as lovers, a skull representing death and celestial bodies.
The set, of which 50 were made, is on view at Taiko restaurant in Dubai, presented by Masterpiece Dubai, an art dealership from the UK that recently opened its gallery in the UAE.
Inspired by the Thoth Tarot Deck by British occultist Aleister Crowley, Bowie created the series in 1975, at about the same time he wrote the album Station to Station, which also explores ideas in mythology, religion and occultism.
The crudely drawn shapes of a moon, a star and the earth in The Arcane Series float in layered blues, while the print of the Lovers depicts two figures, one red and one black, seemingly entwined in a dance while a bright patch of yellow beams above their heads. Signed and dated by Bowie, the prints are currently sold as a set by the gallery.
Alex Cousens, sales director at Masterpiece Dubai, explores these links further in the catalogue for The Arcane Series. He cites Bowie’s growing interest in Zen Buddhism and his eventual practise of tarot in the years preceding the creation of the works.
“Bowie’s early flirtations with the other-worldly are comparable with his physical and psychological disposition for changing personas … and continuous reinvention,” he writes.
When Bowie released Station to Station in 1976, he also unveiled the persona of the Thin White Duke, a controversial character with slicked-back blonde hair and whose cabaret-style outfits comprised a waistcoat, white shirt and black trousers. The persona was deemed by the musician as a “fascist type”, causing criticism that eventually led to Bowie rejecting his previous statements.
He dropped the persona in 1977 and in later years explained that the creation of the character, along with his pro-fascist statements, were the result of drug use, paranoia and depression.
Bowie’s set at Masterpiece Dubai was once in the private collection of an RCA label executive who was given the works as a gift by Bowie in the 1970s. They were exhibited in the gallery’s London space in February last year.
The Arcane Series is on view at Taiko at Sofitel Dubai, The Obelisk until Sunday, August 8.
More information is available at masterpiece.co.uk