Before the wedding dress and the pointy cone bra and the Kabbalah tattoos, at a point when Madonna was a star only of the New York City club scene and still establishing her first public persona, David Bowie had already cycled through enough different looks to fill a coffee table book. What Gaga has distilled down to a science, Bowie approached as art form unto itself, morphing from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke and exploring countless other styles in between and beyond.
It’s fitting, then, that U.K. creative type Mark Blamire didn’t try to limit himself to a single vision for his contribution to David Bowie Is, an upcoming exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. For his limited-edition piece, printed on appropriately glamorous holographic rainbow paper, Blamire enlisted 101 different artists to contribute their own typographic identities for the musician–and then compiled them into a single, beautifully discordant graphic.
The main idea, Blamire says, was to represent Bowie’s “chameleon-like persona” through typography. And at that it clearly succeeds. In some cases, designers made use of their favorite typefaces, where others styled the artist’s name by hand. Some treatments are fairly straightforward nods to the Duke’s album covers, others include more subtle allusions. And while all of the contributions are about Bowie, some reflect the impact he had on the contributing artists themselves.
Marcus Piper explains that his geometric treatment, “based on displaced shapes and repetition centered around a symbol of movement,” was inspired by his experience with Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station, which was released at a point when Piper was transitioning to a new family, or “being transferred from station to station so to speak.” David Jones explains that his is a modern update of a graphic he inked on his backpack as a schoolkid in 1973.
Blamire says he “really didn’t struggle to get people to contribute,” and out of a hundred submissions, only two ended up using the same typeface, which is proof of just how phenomenally broad his career has been, visually speaking (thankfully, Blamire was able to include both of the submissions: one was in all capitals, the other all lowercase). And while it’s not like musicians and visual artists are strange bedfellows by any means, Blamire thinks, in this case, the kinship is a special one.
“I think designers like to try and tear up the rule book or reinvent the wheel somehow when they approach a new project, and Bowie’s philosophy totally represents that idea,” he explains. “[Bowie] evokes this spirit of throwing away and discarding old ideas and always reaching forward at keeping ahead of the curve creatively. He constantly moves forward, never looking backward … and it’s this pioneering spirit of Bowie that means he always remains credible and never out of fashion.”
The exhibition for which the poster was made is an unprecedented career retrospective, featuring artifacts like photographs, instruments, handwritten lyrics–and yes, plenty of costumes. It opens March 23 at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The print will be available at the museum and through its website. You can pre-order one now for £45 here.