A poem Petra directed me towards by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. These four short lines indicative of the potential contained within the ‘death’ of Melusine Van der Weyden.
A persona is an artistic creation. As such a persona, as a concept and not an object, cannot live or die anymore than a thought or an idea. Personas, once created, can only be. From the point a persona is the persona can be moved or made by the creator in any direction. A persona is not bound or constrained by the boundary of life/death because a persona is not a person but a concept. However, what we tend to forget or choose to ignore is how often a person becomes a persona and our quickness to confuse the two.
David Robert Jones, born over seventy years ago in Brixton, South London played with this notion of the persona as artistic creation throughout the half century of his career being ‘David Bowie’. In the third section of this dissertation, III. Personas, I will take a closer look at the work of David Bowie and the various personas of the persona he performed in his creative practice as a means to contextualize how and why I have chosen to develop, create and apply the personas of Melusine, Petra and Franzi as tools in my painting practice which is quite different in his practice as a writer, musician, performer and sometimes painter. As I look to Bowie to contextualize my practice using personas in turn in the same section I also will look to Marcel Duchamp as his questioning of identity within the realm of art, a questioning that at times played not only with the identity of the object, painting, but with his own identity as an artist in a variety of ways, and most directly related to this research in personas via the alter ego Rrose Sélavy. Furthermore, in this section I will connect the practice of Bowie to that of Duchamp as a means of addressing the carry over of Duchamp’s ideas from one genre and ‘high art’ to another genre of ‘popular art’. My research to date has revealed that David Jones, AKA David Bowie, through his training as an artist in the 1960s, in both the visual and performing arts, and through his later collecting and writing about art objects in the last decades of his life was very aware of Duchamp. Two key sources of Bowie’s awareness of Duchamp can be found first in the two objects by Duchamp that were a part of his art collection auctioned off in Fall 2016, a collection that was otherwise populated by English painters, German Expressionism, and Italian design of the 1980s. These two Duchamp’s were obvious outliers in a focused, intent-filled collection. Second, this understanding or at the least awareness of the importance of Duchamp can be found in Bowie’s own words in two interviews with Charlie Rose in the mid-to-late 1990s. To this point, despite continual searching, I have not found others who have closely examined the connection between Bowie and Duchamp. While this may or may not be of significance beyond my own research, my interest in the two and the application of my understanding of how each addressed issues of identity, the object and personas as tools of creating in their own practices continues to prove fruitful to my practice.
Finally, to end this bit of writing I return to the persona as a concept who cannot live or die and with our tendency to conveniently forget or manipulate our understanding of this by confusing the persona with the person. With the advancement in digital technologies we have ‘brought back to life’ musicians who have been dead, enabling them to ‘perform’ duets with living persons either in sound records, the example being Natalie Cole’s recording of “Unforgettable” with her late father, Nat ‘King’ Cole, and most recently the performance of the hologram of Tupac Shakur with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre at Coachella. I argue that in both cases it was a performance of the persona and not the person. We are in an age where the technical ability to fool ourselves has become a way of living. At the same time, when we consider how throughout time we ‘find’ lost writings and objects created by long dead persons we have been able to maintain the life of the persona. Even in the event that an artist, for example Prince, is not ‘brought back to life’ to perform with others as a hologram or whatever new technologies await us, there remains the possibility of a vast amount of ‘new work’ by the mere fact he left vaults filled with writings and recordings waiting to be released into the world.
In the book Shock and Awe Simon Reynolds in the afterward writes on the shock he received at learning of the sudden death of David Bowie in January 2016. But the author said after the initial shock of the death he came to the realization and was comforted by the fact that David Bowie had not died, David Robert Jones had. Like the character “Roman Brady’ on the American soap opera Days of Our Lives, ‘David Bowie’ has the potential to come back in various forms, personified by various artists, for as long as we want him to. With the death of Melusine Van der Weyden I see the same potential.