HE’S A STARMAN! The 50 most influential British artists of the last 50 years revealed

Thursday 11 August 2022
David Bowie lands number one spot – in list that features Vivienne Westwood, Spice Girls and Michaela Coel
  • New list recognises renowned artists across five categories: Visual Arts, Literary Arts, Performing Arts, Music, and Film & TV
  • David Bowie topped the list revealed today by Sky Arts, judged by a panel of esteemed experts chaired by Lauren Laverne. Judges included Kanya King CBE, Bonnie Greer and Ali Plumb
  • Elton John, Sir Steve McQueen, Stormzy, Bernardine Evaristo and Harold Pinter also claim spots in the full list
  • Winner Bowie celebrated with new artwork made of 8610 guitar plectrums

Images available here

Britain's 50 most influential artists of the last 50 years have been revealed in a new list compiled by a panel of esteemed experts from across the arts industry.

Musician David Bowie landed the number one spot, in a list that also features artist Banksy, 90s pop sensation the Spice Girls and acclaimed director, screenwriter and actress Michaela Coel.

A team of expert judges across music, film & TV, performing arts, literature and visual art were challenged to create the list by TV channel Sky Arts in a celebration of British artists past and present and their influence on global culture.

The 15-person judging panel, led by DJ, presenter and author Lauren Laverne, included MOBO Awards founder Kanya King CBE, acclaimed writer Bonnie Greer, film critic, Ali Plumb and esteemed theatre critic Lyn Gardner.

Bowie was named most influential by judges as they commended his influence across the industry and ability to transcend a variety of mediums including music, film and fashion.

To celebrate David Bowie topping the list, Sky Arts commissioned Joe Black, a critically acclaimed mixed media artist from London, to create a unique artwork of the legendary musician using guitar plectrums. Each plectrum features a cut out shape to symbolise all the artistic disciplines Bowie influenced, from music and film to art, performance and poetry.

Britain's top 10 most influential artists of the last 50 years are:

  1. David Bowie – prolific songwriter, performer and actor, known for songs including Heroes, Life on Mars and Space Oddity
  2. Sir Steve McQueen CBE – award-winning film and TV director, producer, writer and artist whose work includes 12 Years a Slave and Small Axe in film and Year 3 in art
  3. Russell T Davies OBE – TV screenwriter and producer, known for bringing Doctor Who to the masses and penning award-winning series It’s A Sin
  4. Dame Vivienne Westwood – iconic fashion designer and pioneer of British punk culture since the 1970s
  5. Caryl Churchill – leading playwright of over thirty plays including Top Girls, Cloud 9, and Far Away
  6. Michael Clark – Scottish dancer and choreographer who commissions for major international dance companies
  7. Angela Carter – feminist powerhouse, writer of The Bloody Chamber, Nights at the Circus and Wise Children
  8. Stormzy – multi-award winning rapper and political activist, known for songs including Shut Up, Vossi Bop and Big For Your Boots
  9. Muriel Spark – acclaimed novelist known for works including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Memento Mori
  10. Michaela Coel – multi-award winning actress, writer and director known for Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You

The artwork, standing at a mammoth 2m tall, has been made using 8,610 individually placed guitar plectrums. The final result is a stunning portrait of Bowie that will be donated by Sky Arts to a school in Bowie’s home town of Brixton, celebrating the new generation of young artists who will be inspired by the musical legend.

Joe is renowned for his portrait and abstract work, and combined his natural craft skills with a love of materials to pioneer an elaborate new form of pixilation.

Speaking about being involved in the campaign, Joe said:

This portrait was created to celebrate David Bowie being named the most influential artist of the last 50 years. His visual representation had a huge impact across all of the arts worldwide. The idea was to use thousands of specially designed plectrums with each design representing one of the five artistic areas of Bowie’s creative life and influences - music, film, fashion, literature and art.

Bowie was a maverick and a global icon who initiated a new Bowie era in popular culture.”

Coming in at second in the Top 10 list is Sir Steve McQueen CBE, known for both his Oscar-winning direction of 12 Years a Slave, as well as his renowned visual artistry which won him the prestigious Turner Prize in 1999.

The list continues with Russell T Davies OBE, who revived Doctor Who to worldwide acclaim in 2005, and later received a BAFTA nomination for his ground-breaking drama, It’s a Sin.

Fashion powerhouse, Dame Vivienne Westwood, comes third for being the epicentre of punk fashion since the 1970s, followed by writer Caryl Churchill who challenged the norm by bringing unconventional themes into contemporary theatre.

Beyond the top ten, a variety of acclaimed British artistic talent, past and present, feature in the Top 50 list. Included in the full list are Ricky Gervais, known for his controversial comedy, as well as Skin, lead vocalist of Skunk Anansie and Glastonbury’s first black British headliner in 1999.

‘Confessional’ visual artist Tracey Emin also appears, plus satirical actor and comic, Steve Coogan.

Many of the artists featuring in the Top 50 can be found in curated Sky Arts programming across the next month, be that Ridley Scott: The Directors on 18th August or The Banksy Job on 31st August, and many more.

The judging process was hard fought, with each judge supplying a selection of names that influenced the arts industry before coming together to discuss and score each artist to compile the shortlist of 50.

Speaking about leading the judging conversations to help determine the Top 50 list, Chair of Judges Lauren Laverne, said:I was honoured to be chosen to take part in this judging day for Sky Arts, as working with such a respected group of judges I knew their conversations would be fascinating… and they were.

“The judges took so much time and care with their scoring to ensure the Top 50, Top 20 and Top 10 lists were truly the best of the best in terms of influence, and the final list are artists that are so deserving of their places.

“David Bowie coming in at number one was the cherry on top of a brilliant judging process, and it was great to be a part of it.”

Phil Edgar-Jones, Director of Sky Arts, said: “Sky Arts would not exist without incredible British talent fuelling our schedules, so to celebrate we wanted to recognise the influence these artists have had on our culture. It’s a rich list headed up by David Bowie and we wanted to honour him in a way that would be fitting to the scale of his influence. The artwork created by Joe Black honours the way that Bowie’s influence transcends genres in a fittingly innovative and imaginative way.”


Notes to Editors

The full Sky Arts Top 50 list can be viewed here.

For further information please contact Rosie.Cope@taylorherring.com / Naomi.Penn@taylorherring.com

How the Top 50 list was composed:

Ahead of the judging day, each judge was asked to contribute a number of names of artists they felt were particularly influential to create a longlist of over 100 artists.

There were three rounds of judging against pre-determined criteria – round one to find the Top 50 artists (10 per category), round two to determine the Top 20 of those 50 artists (four per category), and the final round to rank and order this Top 20 to find the Top 10, and winner.

The judging criteria explored five key themes/questions:

  • How influential is/was their work in their field?
  • How influential is/was their work in reaching artists in other fields?
  • How influential is/was their work on popular culture?
  • How influential is/was their work on people’s lives?
  • How likely is it that their work will influence future generations?

Each theme was scored out of 20, to give an overall score of 100 for each artist. At the end of each round of judging, the top scored artists would move forwards.

Full list of judges:


Kanya King – renowned founder of the MOBO Awards 

Mark Davyd – founder and CEO of Music Venue Trust, supporting 270 UK venues 

Charlotte Gunn – former NME Editor, now founder of TheFortyFive   

Film & TV… 

Ali Plumb – journalist and Radio 1 film critic 

Boyd Hilton – renowned entertainment director and TV and film buff 

Dr Clive Nwonka – lecturer in film, culture and society at UCL   

Visual Arts… 

Sarah Maple – prize-winning visual artist 

Melanie Jackson – visual artist and tutor at RCA 

Scott Henshall – British fashion designer and former Creative Director of Mulberry   

Literary Arts… 

Damian Barr – writer and creator of the Literary Salon 

Bonnie Greer – playwright, novelist and critic 

Thea Lenarduzzi – editor and host of TLS podcast   

Performing Arts… 

Alistair Spalding – Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells 

Lyn Gardner – theatre critic who writes for The Stage and The Guardian 

Joe White – playwright

The Top 50 on Sky Arts:

  • Vivienne Westwood: The South Bank Show Originals – 16th Aug 10.30pm
  • Muriel Spark By Ian Rankin – 17th Aug at 8pm
  • Ridley Scott: The Directors – 18th Aug at 9pm
  • Christopher Nolan: The Directors – 25th Aug at 9pm
  • Discovering David Bowie – 27th Aug at 10:30pm
  • David Bowie: Video Killed The Radio Star – 27th Aug at 11pm
  • The Banksy Job – 31st Aug at 10pm
  • The Specials: Isle of Wight Festival Greatest Hits – 2nd Sept at 9.30pm
  • Classic Albums: Soul II Soul - Club Classics Vol. 1 – 10th Sept at 11.30pm

About Sky Arts

Sky Arts exists to bring more art to more people across the UK. In 2020, with the creative industries under serious threat, we threw open our doors to make the channel free for everyone to watch. We’ve redoubled our mission to increase access to the arts and we’re committed to getting everyone involved as the industry moves from strength to strength. The fact is, we need the arts like never before, and Sky Arts brings them straight to your living room.   

We have something for everyone, championing creative talent by showcasing the best in music, theatre, dance, literature, opera and visual art. From Glyndebourne to Grime and Nina Simone to Noel Gallagher, we’ve got your passions covered. Millions of viewers tune in to hit returning series such as Portrait Artist of the Year and British cultural institution The South Bank Show, but our acclaimed new programmes might take you anywhere from Wordsworth’s favourite landscapes to headbanging at Download Festival.

Collaboration is at the heart of what we do. Sky Arts is the headline sponsor of National Theatre Live in the UK and we work with cultural partners across the country including the English National Opera, Bristol Old Vic, Tate, Creative UK and the Crafts Council to name but a few.   

You can watch Sky Arts for free on Freeview channel 11 and Freesat channel 147.  If you’ve got Sky or a Now TV entertainment pass, you can also watch over 2,000 hours of shows exclusively on demand.