the australian artist at the epicenter of bowie grief

James Cochran’s Brixton mural has become the world’s shrine to David Bowie.

by Maddison Connaughton
14 January 2016, 10:05am

Image via Twitter

It's late when I finally get to talk to James Cochran. The artist has just spent the day fielding interviews and watching a mural he painted in Brixton more than three years ago become the epicentre of mourning for David Bowie. For any artist, it's hard to imagine what it would be like to see your work become a shrine for one of the world's biggest musicians. For Cochran, an incredibly softly spoken guy, it seems particularly surreal.

Originally from Australia, Cochran only moved to London in 2010. When he tells me he's home in Adelaide visiting family right now, I get the sense he'd really like to be back in Brixton. "It's been an overwhelming last few days," he says. "I've seen images from Brixton and it's quite moving. Everyone there singing songs, unified, trying to celebrate his life."

Painted over three days back in 2013 on the wall of a Brixton department store, Cochran's Bowie mural was never meant to be a permanent fixture. The wall's owners only wanted the piece there for a few weeks but as he worked the locals decided it should stay.

"From the beginning when I was painting it there were people singing songs around me by Bowie, telling me how much they loved Bowie and how happy they were I was painting it there," Cochran says. If you switched on any news channel over the past couple of days you probably saw Cochran's work — Bowie's angular face made up of tiny spray paint dots. Colourful orbs float all around him; they're planets, Cochran explains.

Flowers started arriving at the mural early on Monday, as rumours began to circulate. By the time Bowie's death was confirmed, bouquets had piled a metre high. Fans had flocked in their hundreds to Brixton, the singer's birthplace.

Part of Bowie's genius was that he didn't discriminate between what was seen as high and low art. Being a successful street artist in London, Cochran's work also lives in this blurry space. The Bowie mural, for example, was first done on canvas. It was an experiment, viewed through 3D glasses the orbs around Bowie's head would float and move. While Cochran recreated it on the streets of Brixton, the original hung in a posh Mayfair gallery.

"It's an interesting thing because street art has become really popular over the last few years so everyone kind of wants a piece of it," he says. "You've just gotta walk that line between showing your work in galleries and painting on the street."

You get the sense talking to Cochran that finding success as an artist was never his goal. His work is still grounded in those formative years back in Adelaide's fledgling 90s graffiti scene. He says he still works like he's a teenager painting illegally in the middle of the night.

"It was refreshing when I went to London because it's kind of like I started again but with a completely different approach just straight on the street," he explains. "Not getting paid, painting for free but just with a lot more freedom."

Ironically, it looks like one of these street works will be his most famous. 


Text Maddison Connaughton