David Bowie's year in galleries continues as NPG reveals Elephant Man portrait

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 September 2013

David Bowie’s year as the subject of domestic gallery exhibitions continues apace as the National Portrait Gallery unveils a portrait of the Thin White Duke during his feted theatre role as Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man.

a portrait of David Bowie with short blonde hair and a floppy fringe
David Bowie as the Elephant Man by Derek Boshier, 1980.© Derek Boshier c/o Flowers Gallery
The portrait - one of ten being shown by the gallery in a new display of the work of Pop Artist Derek Boshier - captures Bowie in the role as he was rehearsing for Bernard Pomerance's play about the tragic life of Merrick, The Elephant Man, in 1979.

From an early age Joseph Merrick (1862-1890) developed terrible bodily deformities and was forced to make a living travelling as a circus performer before being helped by the physician Frederick Treves to live out his life in specially adapted rooms at the London Hospital.

Bowie’s depiction of this tragic figure required him to distort his face and body, holding poses for long periods of time. It was his first major theatre role and his moving performances received huge critical acclaim.

As well as the Bowie portrait, Derek Boshier: Imaginary Portraits reveals the artist’s lesser known depictions of invented people or representations of real individuals that incorporate fantasy.

There are two Bowie portraits and one of the painter Malcolm Morley, which were based on observations from life but then developed imaginatively.

Later works include a series of drawings in which the artist depicts himself in a variety of different roles and contexts. The most recent work on show in the display is Black Dog (2009): a large painting which depicts a fragmented figure and represents, according to Boshier, ‘a symbol of self-identification.

  • Derek Boshier: Imaginary Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from September 28 2013 - May 2014. Admission free.

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