Sara Captain has a winning, radiant smile. I know this because I had the pleasure of meeting her at the yearly celebration in Beckenham a year ago in mid-August, to celebrate the festival put up by Bowie in 1969.
Much in the same way, a year ago, my first ‘vis a vis’ happened with some of her works. I’m talking about her wonderful murals celebrating Bowie to be found in what is now a ‘Zizzi Restaurant’, also in Beckehnam, formerly the Three Tuns pub, the place where Bowie’s Arts Lab once stood.
Looking at her paintings was quite an experience, because there is something deeply intimate that comes out of these portraits: always the same subject matter but always different – changing, just like David Bowie was.
Sara is a professional artist, illustrator and portraitist, who at some point in her life has felt the urgency to talk about her muse through art: David Bowie.
Bowie’s death has opened new paths: this is a very common experience among us. She talks about her experience in this interview she kindly granted us:
Q: From June 1st to July 15th, there is a beautiful exhibition of your works dedicated to David Bowie, in Paris. It is certainly a great achievement and I imagine that this, rightly, makes you happy. But tell me: how did you reach Paris?
A: Yes, the exhibition in Paris is a really exciting event. The “Stardust Gallery” is famous for showcasing the best in rock iconography and also includes Sukita among the artists hosted in the past, which makes it a real honor for me. The choice of Paris came about thanks to a group of French fans who came to London some time ago for a guided tour of Brixton in the footsteps of Bowie – some of them already knew my works and many subsequently became friends as well as collectors. Since they always kept coming to London, it seemed like a nice thing to do to bring my works to France instead, for once. I had already got in touch with the gallery, but it was thanks to Isa Durand (Bowie France) that all this was achieved.
Q: Where and when did your artistic adventure linked to Bowie begin?
A: Bowie has always been part of my artistic DNA, initially not so much as a subject but for absorbing different influences, from Japanese aesthetics to Lindsay Kemp, which now are part of my artistic education. After January 2016 – there was like this huge earthquake that struck my whole life, almost inexplicably – I felt the burning need to capture those small, subtle expressions and mammerisms that made David unique. At the beginning I did it just for myself, as if there were to keep him always here, close, and alive- trying to isolate the beauty of those details and fixing those little things that made David, “David”.
So, one day I decided to paint him as Thomas Jerome Newton, with his typical expressions. When I showed the portraits in public the reaction was incredible. I thought: maybe that’s something special. David is an infinitely fascinating and multi-faceted subject, and it’s amazing to test things with him, which I can later repeat in other portraits and works. He’s like a guide, the muse of an artistic adventure to be engage in almost together.
Q: We know that you are Italian, but you have been living in London for many years by now. What brought you to the land of Albion? Can you tell us a little about yourself and your story?
A: Ha ha! This is an interesting, bitter sweet story. I’ve got a very international background: I’m Italian, yes, but with Anglo-Saxon culture on one side of the family and Franco-German on the other. Travelling has always been part of my life, like speaking languages: I grew up virtually bilingual. But the truth is it was a handsome British boy who brought me to England – a great love, and the result was that he became a little bit Italian, and I was a little bit English. But, there were other reasons if I decided to live in England: a terrible family situation forced me to seek peace, privacy and shelter in London. It was a matter of survival and, thank God, I’m still here. I lived incredible and extraordinary moments in my life, but also moments of despair and deep sorrow. I hope both the good and the bad experiences helped me to become more human, to feel more empathy and to understand things that I would never have understood if I had lived in my gilded cage. But I don’t like to talk about that. I can tell you I’m just like a Renaissance woman, with various interests in every field – from science to history, from fashion to interior design, from my love of animals to active participation in politics. And I play music and I do theatre alongside my painting career. London is a stimulating city and England is a great place to reinvent yourself and where you can have more than one career path.
Q: Your works are really intense and accurate. The murals I saw last year at the ‘Zizzi Restaurant’ in Beckenham hit me a lot: when did you start drawing and painting?
A: Oh, thanks! I’m glad about that! You know, I usually spend lots of time watching David’s face. I’ve been painting since childhood, both because I had painters in the family who encouraged me and because I loved drawing – so many people started to notice, how to say, a natural gift. Instead of attending fine arts studies, I decided to study History of Art to focus my attention on Old Masters’ geniuses and trying to have a reference network. After working as visualizer and illustrator in an advertising agency, I stopped painting for a while to set up my own school of English which focused not only on the mere linguistic aspects, but also on the historical and cultural ones, yet always waiting for the right moment to come back to Art in its highest, purest, non- commercial form. And here we are!
Q: I read that some of your works were stolen a few years ago. Can you tell us what happened? Have you found your works?
A: Yes! It was terrible, really frustrating. I had just arrived to my house of holidays by car, with a trunk full of paintings, drawings and sketches. I had even a comic book about the life of young Saint Just, the French revolution hero, almost ready for the publication: I always had everything with me. As I took my stuff from the trunk, someone stole my suitcases with all my works. It was a shock for me, but I think for the thief, too! No, unfortunately, they were never found – just a folder that fortunately I was holding in my hands.
Q: Let’s talk about what seems to have become your Muse: David Bowie. What do you love about him, in particular? What moves you to reproduce his face, his expressions?
A: I can’t explain what I really love about David – I’ve never been able to put it into words. There’s something in his face, in his eyes, his voice. Something attracting you and pushing you away at the same time: hot and cold. It’s a purely aesthetic thing perhaps, but the surface belies the essence. I don’t’ know. I think we can’t separate a face, someone’s physical appearance from their soul, and therefore I believe that there is something in David’s soul – something that transpires from his physical features – that echoes with mine. Something I respond to. His expressions are so typical and unique. I find them fascinating and funny – not only when he is beautiful and sparkling but also when he is clumsy, awkward or shy. Art has the power, it’s said, of capturing souls, and maybe this is the reason that drives me to try and fix these expressions on my paintings: a wish to keep him alive. People say that my portraits about David have a strong impact, just like a presence. Maybe there’s something magical, but it has nothing to do with me; if it happens, it’s not my fault. All the best works kind of make themselves, with ease, it is absolutely true!
Q: What’s your first memory about him and his music?
A: I remember it as if it was now! China Girl video on MTV – love at first sight! Oh my God, who’s that man? What’s this voice coming from the deep? Since then, no way back! My first record was Space Oddity, and it still holds a special place in my heart.
D: Which Bowie song represents you the best?
A: It’s a classic: Heroes! Since I had guns shooting over our heads almost literally, this song is my anthem. One night that English guy I was talking about previously, asked the DJ to put ‘Heroes’ to find the courage to kiss me – and then “ we kissed as if nothing could fall” – for hours and hours, with the whole world against us! That night we were pure and “the shame was on the other side.’ Really! Unforgettable…Every time I hear this song, I feel like crying – hot tears – and even when someone else sings it, I always hear the echo of David’s voice singing underneath. This song touched me deeply. It represents not only me, but David perfectly too – this is the song he never got tired of singing – so he said. My favourite version is the German one, because of my mother’s connection with Germany.
Q: Do you think that Bowie’s human and artistic life can teach something on this planet? What are the features that you like the most about him?
A: Where to start? How long have you got for this interview? Well, in a nutshell: first of all, he had an inclusive, open minded attitude; he was a sponge for influences and other cultures, and enthusiastic about everything, about life. He’s living proof that coming out of one’s own shell, getting in a deep touch with ‘otherness’ is not synonymous with losing oneself or diluting ones’ identity, but exactly the opposite. It means enriching, developing and finding oneself. This is a huge message, especially in today’s world, where nations are drawing their bridges. The second aspect I do love is that David describes himself as a generalist: all art is basically one thing for him. There’s no difference, effectively, among actors, painters, writers or singers. Every form of art encapsulates the human condition and David explored them all -he used them without boundaries. My attitude is very close to his. Then, from the human point of view, the experience of loneliness and isolation made him closer to people on the margins, the lonely, the outsiders, the mentally ill. David has been able to give voice to these people and he kept them company with his music, as evidenced by the famous verses ‘Oh no love you are not alone’ and ‘I’ve had my share, I will help you with the pain”. Finally, I do admire his determination and energy. He filled the unforgiving minutes of his life with so many things, experiences, getting things done without wasting his time. He was able to change what he disliked about himself. And that’s no mean feat!!!
Q: You live in London now – could you tell us how the English experienced Bowie’s death?
Did you notice empathy or indifference?
A: No, I did not notice the famous British coldness, but exactly the opposite! I’ve never seen so many adults crying, both men and women. It was a bit like for Diana – an unexpected show of public love, and it was not created by the media – it was real. It was as if all of a sudden people had woken up and felt the need to say: ‘Hey David, we love you!’. Newspapers reported articles in which adult men, important journalists, admitted that they’d cried in the shower on that fateful morning, and you could see people deeply upset in the street and everywhere, in shops and shopping malls; David’s music could be heard from the running car stereos. Young people, even teenagers, started a journey of discovery that we, longtime fans, had made in the 70s and 80s, and started sporting Bowie T-shirts and stuff. A large community was born thanks to social media and new friendships were forged among fans from different parts of the country and beyond. Surely British people feel that David is very much one of them, and they are proud of it. If you go around wearing a Bowie T-shirt, people nod at you and say: ‘Ah, Bowie! Well done! Me too…’ The Brixton mural has become a symbol and a place to meet up. David is important, David is cool – David is so much more than a rock star.
Q: Your exhibition has a very special and impressive title, which intentionally refers to a work by Magritte (Ceci n’est pas une pipe). Can you tell us where this idea came from? Is it just a pun or is it meant to suggest something?
A: The idea of the title comes from the painting itself – just to reveal a series of things: this is not David Bowie – even if it’s a realistic and living portrayal, the painting is but an illusion, it is just a portrait of David Bowie, a work of art, not the person it depicts- like Magritte’s pipe that isn’t a pipe but just a painting, i.e. the image of a pipe. Yet sometimes the image offers a much more universal and deeper truth. Obviously this title reminds us that David Bowie is not David Bowie, actually, but David Robert Jones – in fact my paintings rarely show Bowie as a rock icon, but David as a person or ‘everyman’ instead- a symbol ofmankind facing existential matters .The pipe is not the one represented by Magritte but a Bewlay – the type smoked by David and obviously also the homonymous song title. There are many levels of meaning, and a bit of humor. I like to think that David, lover and connoisseur of art, would have found this title funny, as well as the reference to the duality between the person and the persona .
Q: I’m sure about that! Speaking of Magritte and other artists in general: do you have people who inspired you? Who are your favorite painters?
A: Surely! As Ugo Foscolo said in that poem on the Canova statues: all art inspires other art! Drawing is the basis of everything for me, and I do admire the great draftsmen like Egon Schiele -with his nervy and expressive line, or Goya … but also the Italian cartoonists: I love the poetry of Hugo Pratt and the sexy agility of Milo Manara. I do love the Abstract Expressionists, things like the impact of Franz Kline’s black and white or Rothko’s talking colors, and the great American illustrators such as Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, masters of composition. Among the great, unsurpassed Masters there are obviously Rembrandt with the portrait of his son Titus and, best of all, Leonardo Da Vinci, whose Lady with the Ermine is maybe my favorite painting of all time. Among the contemporaries, I’m inspired by the elegance and simplicity of Yesunari Ikenga. Oh, and I find the work of Ron Mueck or American artist Hope Gangloff’s wonderful paintings, absolutely fascinating.
Q: I’d like to know your opinion on Bowie as a painter and visual artist.
A: David was a better painter than he thought he was or liked to admit. Among his works, ‘Child in Berlin’ is an absolute masterpiece – and am not saying that just because it is a work by Bowie, but because it is masterful in its own right: its expressive immediacy, economy of lines and colors … it’s perfect! That child could be himself. I do like the two portraits of Iggy and that of Mishima too, and the quick sketch of the cover of “Heroes”. As in his music, he took the liberty to use things that excited him and transform them. The influence of Expressionism, both German and abstract, is clearly present, – for example ‘Present future accepted – 1995’ reminds De Kooning’s women, or ‘I am a World Champion’ brings to mind the colors of the ‘Die Brücke’ movement. Derivatives? Maybe… Or deliberately post modernists maybe, with the awareness that nothing is really original in art by now, even if it seems so. But it doesn’t matter! The artistic landmarks he chose are a sign of his enduring passion for art and the resulting paintings are fantastic. Who cares if Rebel Rebel echoes the Stones? It’s definitely David’s and the song is fabulous! His D-Heads are fantastic, too: David knows how to capture the expression of the people close to him, or his own, with no more than few lines and a touch of irony. There are some of his work I don’t like that much, too evidently acrylic and way too elaborate – but his best works deserve much higher recognition and are worthy of a great museum.
Q: Ritual question: Have you other projects after Paris? But, above all, could we ever see one of your exhibitions one day in Italy?
A: Other projects? Yes, should be exhibiting something in Brixton in mid-June, and I have an incredibly interesting project with Philippe Auliac – an extraordinary photographer in my opinion, whose work inspired me right from the start because of his unusual and incredibly effective use of light. He exhibits his gorgeous large-format photos in the middle of France, and during his show I will introduce my interpretation of some of my favorite images of his through paintings or drawings. Then I will prepare an exhibition in London, and it will be a little different and surprising – as it was my personal version of ‘Low’. I would like to come to Italy for an exhibition next year! I saw that Monica Colussi recently curated an exhibition on Bowie. I know Monica and she is very nice … maybe I should get in touch with her, what do you think? At the moment I can only say: watch this space!
Q: Thank you very much and good luck!
A: Thank You and all the best to you and every Blackstar.it reader! Hope to see you soon… and come and visit my exhibition in Paris – a good excuse to see Ville Lumiere! From June 1st to July 15th.
I’ll be waiting for you!
Sara’s exhibition in Paris is hosted by the “Stardust” Gallery – 37 rue de Stalingrad, 93310 Le Pré-Saint-Gervais –