David Bowie gets literary

by Vanessa Friedman / Elle

December 1997

The entertainment world is littered with crossover attempts gone wrong: actors who tried to be painters (Sylvester Stallone, Tony Curtis), actors who tried to be pop stars (Keanu Reeves, Kevin Bacon), pop stars who tried to be actors (Sting, Rick Springfield). Rarely have any strived to be book publishers–and rarely with the success of the latest member of the profession, David Bowie.

The man who fell to Earth has fallen into the book biz, forming, along with Karen Wright, editor of the British art magazine Modern Painters (to which Bowie regularly contributes), gallery owner Bernard Jacobson, and English supermarket magnate Sir Tim Sainsbury, a boutique art-publishing firm called 21. The name was Bowie’s idea and refers to the coming century; the mission is, he says, “to publish books that are highly readable at a layman’s level about art and culture–none of these highfalutin, stuffy art tomes by critics and academics for critics and academics that are the only things available at the moment.” Adds Bowie: “We don’t have any major, teeth-clenching ambitions. Just a few books a year, written for people like ourselves.” People like famous rock stars? “No, just blokes who like art.”

The first book, Matt Collings’s Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop, an idiosyncratic tour of the British art scene, hits U.S. stores this month.

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