When David Bowie Played Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Film, Basquiat

Many actors have played Andy Warhol over the years, but not as many as you might think. Crispin Glover played him in The Doors, Jared Har­ris played him in I Shot Andy Warhol, Guy Pearce played him in Fac­to­ry Girl, and Bill Had­er played him in Men in Black III, but with a twist: he is actu­al­ly an agent who is so bad as his cov­er role as an artist, he’s “paint­ing soup cans and bananas, for Christ sakes!” On tele­vi­sion John Cameron Mitchell has act­ed the Warhol role in Vinyl, and Evan Peters briefly por­trayed him in Amer­i­can Hor­ror Sto­ry: Cult.

But you might sus­pect our favorite Warhol would be the one act­ed by David Bowie in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat, the biopic of the Black street artist who was tak­en into the art world fold by Warhol, and wound up col­lab­o­rat­ing with him in last works by both artists. Jef­frey Wright plays Basquiat in one of his ear­li­est roles.

Now, you might watch this scene from Basquiat above (and anoth­er below) and say, well, that’s just most­ly Bowie. But I would say, yes, that’s kind of the point. Andy Warhol is an enig­mat­ic fig­ure, a leg­end to many, a man who hid behind a con­struct­ed per­sona; David Bowie is too. When one plays the oth­er, a weird sort of mag­ic hap­pens. Fame leaks into fame. Many actors might do bet­ter with the man­ner­isms or the voice, but the charisma…that is all Bowie. After singing about the painter back in 1972, Bowie final­ly col­lapsed their visions togeth­er in the art of film, where real­i­ty and fan­ta­sy meet and meld.

Around this time in the mid 1990s, Bowie was very much a part of the New York/London art scene. He was on the edi­to­r­i­al board of Mod­ern Painters mag­a­zine and inter­viewed Basquiat direc­tor (and artist) Julian Schn­abel, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and Balthus. A con­cep­tu­al artist-slash-ser­i­al killer became one of the main char­ac­ters of his over­looked 1995 Eno col­lab­o­ra­tion Out­side. He was both a col­lec­tor and an artist, which we’ve focused on before. And he was think­ing about the new world open­ing up because of the inter­net. Bowie’s artist brain saw the pos­si­bil­i­ties and the dan­gers, and also the raw cap­i­tal­ist poten­tial. He offered shares in him­self as an IPO in 1997 and released a sin­gle as Tao Jones Index, three puns in one. Bowie nev­er pre­dict­ed the idio­cy of the NFT, but he cer­tain­ly would have laughed wry­ly at it.

In this Char­lie Rose inter­view to pro­mote Basquiat, Bowie and Schn­abel dis­cuss the role of Warhol, the role of art, and the real­i­ty of the art world.

“It was more of an imper­son­ation, real­ly,” says Bowie about his Warhol. “That’s how I approach any­thing.” Of note, how­ev­er, is how quick­ly Bowie moves away from dis­cussing him­self or the film to talk about larg­er issues of art and com­merce. Bowie does admit that he and Schn­abel dis­agree on a lot of things, and you can see it in their body lan­guage. But there’s also a huge respect. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view, go watch the whole thing.

Bonus: Below watch Bowie meet­ing Warhol back dur­ing the day…

Relat­ed Con­tent:

96 Draw­ings of David Bowie by the “World’s Best Com­ic Artists”: Michel Gondry, Kate Beat­on & More

The Odd Cou­ple: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, 1986

When David Bowie Launched His Own Inter­net Ser­vice Provider: The Rise and Fall of BowieNet (1998)

Take a Close Look at Basquiat’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Art in a New 500-Page, 14-Pound, Large For­mat Book by Taschen

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • brian says:

    Heh, amus­ing bit at the end of the arti­cle where the author says “back dur­ing the day,” a for­ma­tion that gives the sense of one’s grand­fa­ther try­ing des­per­ate­ly to sound hip and iron­i­cal­ly illus­trat­ing just how out of touch he real­ly is.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.