In 1995, no more than ten to fifteen rolls of David Bowie-designed wallpaper were made in the Wales Laura Ashley printing facility. The unlikely partnership between musician/artist and British textiles manufacturer was established for the occasion of an art show at the Saatchi Gallery on Cork Street in London. New Afro Pagan Work: 1975-1995 featured two wallpaper designs wrapped around Romanesque pilasters that could be moved around the exhibition.
The roll titled Conflict features a nude self-portrait of Lucian Freud transfixed within the confines a Damien Hirst glass box, floating aimlessly on a purple background. In an interview on Dutch television, Bowie describes the pairing of Hirst and Freud with a classic English chintz motif as a mashup of between an epoch of art concerned with classical techniques and realistic narrative with a movement that set aside tradition for abstraction: “It was traditional art in the hands of modern art.” In this precarious arrangement, the Freud-Hirst tank appears as if it didn’t belong in the foreground of Laura Ashely’s floral print, intentionally rendering the conflicting art styles in one space. Perhaps the work’s name, “Conflict,” refers to this unexpected coupling—visual themes copied and pasted in an intentionally awkward composition.
The other pattern features one of Picasso’s favorite subjects, the Minotaur, which was, according to the Bowie, censored. When asked about the collaboration, it seems the design process with the quintessentially British textile manufacturer involved one major edit. “It’s been a good working relationship, apart from the castration, that is,” said Bowie.
Works by Joan Miró, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol accompany both Bowie-designed wallpaper rolls in Sotheby’s April Prints & Multiples auction, open for online bidding from April 17th to April 28th.
Header image: David Bowie poses in front of his wallpaper designs printed by Laura Ashley. (Courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum)