George Underwood: the artist who led Bowie to make music

The painter talks about his life in art and being responsible for his famous friend’s mismatched eyes

George Underwood is becoming a little sick of his claim to fame. More than half a century ago, in Bromley, Kent, the 15-year-old Underwood asked Carol Goldsmith out; she said yes, and a date was fixed for the youth club the following Wednesday. But on the day, Underwood’s best friend, David Jones, called him to say that Carol had changed her mind. This wasn’t the case, as it happens. Nor was it true – as Jones later bragged – that he’d got together with Carol.

Underwood “saw red”, as he puts it, and punched Jones once in the left eye. A week later he found out that his fingernail had scratched the eyeball and Jones had been rushed to hospital. For Jones, who underwent two operations and was left with one permanently dilated pupil, it was deeply traumatic; but for David Bowie, the man he would eventually become, this entrancing frozen eyeball – that appeared black, not blue, like his other iris – would become an essential part of his aesthetic.

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