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Derek Boshier came up with the idea for his new exhibition, Icarus and K Pop, while channel-hopping. The 84-year-old artist – who was a pioneer of pop art in the 1970s – stumbled upon Korean Pop – and in particular, the King Of Masked Singers – a show where Korean pop singers dress up in ‘sophisticated and beautiful costumes’ and sing, without revealing their identity.

Artist Derek Boshier, pictured today

Courtesy of the artist

Boshier – who studied with David Hockney at the Royal College of Art – was instantly transfixed. ‘It’s the most amazing phenomenon,’ he told Tatler at Gazelli Art House last week at the exhibition’s opening. The vast acrylic canvases – which make up the first section of the exhibition – chronicle the hyperbolic costumes from the show – there are unicorn masks, satanic cackling faces and abstract patterns. Each canvas features a large ‘K’ – which, Boshier explains, is both a nod to Korean Pop and American consumerism à la Special K). The piece’s theme of deception and mystery keeps the viewer equally enthralled and in the dark. For Boshier, this an illusion to the political spectacles we have witnessed in the post-Trump era.

Upstairs is dedicated to the second part of the exhibition, Icarus, based on the mythological figure who encapsulates ‘a story of a grand idea and total failure,’ explains Boshier. On vivid blue canvases, figures – such as a suited rabbit and a group of wrestling men – fall from the sky. The myth of Icarus, Boshier believes, is emblematic of so many contemporary failures. ‘It can be applied to contemporary politics, corporations, the mishandling of COVID,’ he explains.

Icarus and Corporate Friends by Derek Boshier, 2020

Courtesy of Gazelli Art House

The fallen figure is a motif Boshier has returned to throughout his work – much like his late friend and collaborator David Bowie. ‘We had a lot of things in common. We talked about it a bit. We were both working class, we were interested in mime, satire and the falling figure,’ explains Boshier. ‘The Man who Fell to Earth, which I think is his best film.’ It was a theme the pair touched on when they collaborated on Bowie’s Lodger album cover – the singer is depicted falling while suspended on a custom-built metal frame. Bowie has his hand in bandages and is holding a comb – a decision that was made on the day, explains Boshier. ‘David had his hand in bandages because he had split coffee on it. When make-up said it would take another hour he said “leave it on.” That was typical David.’

Boshier (second from left), with Iman and David Bowie

Courtesy of the artist

‘All the time I met him he was always being so inventive,’ adds Boshier. ‘He was such a good guy to be with and our conversations were so good. And also fucking stimulating, interesting and funny.’ Bowie was a fan of Boshier’s work before they met; ‘I was in a bookshop in Covent Garden and someone said “David Bowie’s been down here asking for any books or catalogues on your work.” I thought “how strange.”’ Two weeks later, the pair were introduced by a mutual friend – the late photographer Brian Duffy. ‘He said i’ve got this great friend and I think you’d get on very well. From the way he worded it, I thought they were female and it was a blind date.’

Boshier (right) with David Bowie and his daughters

Courtesy of the artist

Duffy invited Boshier to his studio in Highgate in North London. ‘I went in and it was David,’ Boshier explains. ‘David said I love your work – and I’ve just done another LP. Would you like to design the record cover?’’ Over the years, Bowie became Boshier’s ‘greatest collector,’ explains Boshier. ‘He has eight works of mine.’ The last time Boshier heard from Bowie was when the singer got in touch to congratulate him on his work. ‘The email said “Hi Derek, just wanted to say how much I love your Thames & Hudson book.” He said “your work cascades down the decades. He was always a great lyricist.”’ adds Boshier. ‘I thought “oh great. I’ll reply that maybe in a week or two or something, and I’ll do another drawing for him.” What I didn’t know was that he was sending out emails to all his friends to say goodbye.’

K Pop: King of Mask Singers by Derek Boshier, 2020

Courtesy of Gazelli Art House

Derek’s exhibition Icarus and K Pop is at the Gazelli Art House gallery until 13th November 2021.

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