David Bowie is...

David Bowie is... what exactly? This was what we asked ourselves last Friday as the entire Bisqit studio headed to the V&A to see the international retrospective of the artist’s work.

Personally I think David Bowie is a pioneer and as subjective as that sounds it’s well documented. The exhibition, the first of its kind, explores the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across five decades. It’s also well documented that I bang on about inspiration quite a bit which, I’m afraid, is something I’m about to do again.

This time however it’s not about how he inspires me, but how he inspires himself. 

David Bowie is exhibition, 2013. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It should have been obvious given the amount I talk about inspiration but I just didn’t expect the exhibition to invest so much into where his ideas come from. Don’t get me wrong, it was a spectacular collection of over 300 items from the artist’s personal David Bowie Archive, including stage outfits, handwritten lyrics and sketches, memorabilia and interviews but the one thing that surprised me most, even more so than his tiny 26" waisted Kansai Yamamoto monochrome PVC bodysuit, was the artists personal JG Ballard collection.

Being a pioneer, and one of the first musicians to really push the term ‘music artist’, I blindly walked into the exhibition with the sense that he was an inspirer - not inspiree. As you make your way around you are confronted with books, art works, travellers tales, letters and audio clips from every ‘genre of creativity’. Bowie, it seems, finds inspiration in all artistic avenues. There was even a fascinating interview about his development of a ‘random word generator’ that would help trigger his song-writing and story telling. He was, and is, like a modern day Dorian Grey, constantly searching for new experiences and influences.

David Bowie is exhibition, 2013. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Ironically, this was incredibly relevant to a chat I had had with my creative director that very day. We were discussing the future of branding and how trends arrive, grow and then disappear. After a while we naturally hit on the topic of inspiration and its influence on trend behavior. Our argument was that when searching for an idea, it’s more common than not to head straight for other design work – something that has caught our attention perhaps. Surely though, this stifles creativity as you end up in the same place every time? Surely inspiration comes from anywhere right? So why do we head straight to our design boards on Pinterest instead of a surrealist author?

This debate was wonderfully answered thoughout Bowie's exhibition. Unlike my initial naive outlook, he did go out looking for inspiration, but it wasn’t about listening to some 1950s jazz artist or American blues, it was about living in Germany for 3 years immersing himself in the constructivist ethos, or reading George Orwell's ‘1984’.

David Bowie is exhibition, 2013. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Okay, I know that in the end I didn’t really talk about the exhibition very much but that’s because to me, a huge Bowie fan, it was more than just a collection of stuff. It was a visual manifesto, the Bowie manifesto!

What I’m trying to say is that there is a reason Bowie has made the impact he has, and maybe it’s something we could learn a little from – starting with this exhibition possibly.