Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
David Bowie

David Bowie’s Influences in a Periodic Table of the Elements


Artist Paul Robertson created a map of the characters who influenced the creativity of the eccentric Starman, and organized them into a table of the elements.

The only art I’ll ever study is stuff I can steal from.

—David Bowie

One green eye and one blue. With that, a powerful personality comes to illuminate the imagination. “I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human,” David Bowie once said, with all of his characteristic irony. In many ways, he achieved his goal: his music, his remarkable intelligence and his eccentric style survive him even today, two years after his death. They’ll continue to do so.

In January 2016, when the thin white duke departed the planet, the world was shocked at the seeming infinite loss. Among the many tributes after his death, his posthumous album Black Star (a tribute he made to himself) is the most spectacular of all. Full of the rarity that so honors Bowie’s essence, there’s also the strange, scientific elegy made by the English artist Paul Robertson: a periodic table of the influences which touched the Starman. The document was part of an exhibition, David Bowie Is, put together after his death at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The task of producing the table is profoundly interesting: it divides the characters that influenced Bowie, from false taxonomies and then groups them into categories in the same way that the periodic table is structured. It’s a fascinating exercise which allows us to understand the complexity of the artist a little bit more. Mick Jagger, Tristan Tzara, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, and Stanley Kubrick are among the main elements within this map of Bowie’s mind. Also included is his wife Iman, who has her own space in the area of the noble gases (next to Carl Jung). The table also includes later influences. That is, artists who were definitively touched by Bowie; Boy George, Madonna, Jarvis Cocker, Morrisey, Alexander McQueen and the artist Jeff Koons are among them. Finally, it’s no surprise that the king of all dandies, Oscar Wilde, occupies the space of hydrogen, one of the main elements in this fascinating scheme.

If the periodic table is a record of all the elements existing in the universe, Robertson’s is a table of the fantastic universe that was David Bowie. Such extravagant characters as Elvis, Marlene Dietrich, Luis Buñuel, Marcel Duchamp, and Neil Armstrong all figure into the scheme. The result is not only a beautiful map, but a moving tribute to one of the most beautiful minds to have inhabited the planet.

Related Articles