There couldn’t be a better time to get interested in Leigh Bowery and dedicate an article than artist’s 50th birthday and the evening organised for this occasion at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art). I admittedly just happened to be there, neither did I know who was going to speak, nor what topic it will be and why. It has become a tradition that each Friday afternoon I come to the ICA to sniff around and see what interesting is happening this time in the ‘Culture Now’ studio.
This time I was unexpectedly surprised because once entered the room I realised that it is full of colourful people, transvestites and young men and women wearing distinctive and colourful clothes and make up. I found Sue Tilley, woman shining with self confidence and proud with her body and the fact that artist’s Lucian Freud painting of her nude was sold for 34 million dollars (she didn’t get a single penny), to be very interesting. I hope that for those who already know about this fashion avant-garde, performance, music and club culture person this article will remind once more about his creativity and his works that break the boundaries.
Remembering Leigh Bowery it is necessary to talk about the exhibitionism. This person had such openness and expression that most people called him an artwork himself. His expression started with the colourful and strange clothes that developed into something even more pervert and inconceivable. When together with a couple of friends he opened the one and only fashion and disco club for bisexuals in the centre of London in 1980, the costumes and the catwalk demonstrations became a real performance, firing the audience and encouraging to look at your own body, your senses and stereotypes differently. This breaking of the stereotypes was directly related to the understanding of the man-woman body, the misinterpreting of the canons and the navigating between the aesthetic and the disgust. The artist played with the audience using elemental and impudent visual language that (as it often happens for the similar artists focusing on similar subjects and themes) didn’t let him stay indifferent. There would always emerge two groups — fans and those that hated him; there was no middle section in the world of Leigh Bowery. This tradition still exists, there are people fascinated by him, people that copy him and create a cult and subculture, and some narrow-minded people that deny him.
Documentary about Leigh Bowery, very much recommended
The ability to mesmerise, laugh angrily and enjoy, is what fascinates me most about this artist and his works. When I watch these performances, the visual language he uses, the domination of the indecent, rude behaviour, which includes defecation, vomiting, demonstration of the genital organs and other actions, make me feel the whole atmosphere and the personality of this artist and the ‘Taboo’ club, full of sexual freedom, drugs, fashion and pulse, with the last line crossed. Club style routine and every day performances and parties were all part of Bowery’s life for six years. When trying to evaluate this fact the natural question is how do you manage both — this kind of life and work? Bowery made all the costumes for himself, he was a perfectionist, he also participated in many shows and musical performances with his own band ‘Minty’ and finally he reached the world of high art and the contemporary art galleries. All these projects were fulfilled before he turned 33. Then he died of HIV.
‘Minty’ band performance
It is hard to imagine what we would have seen if he would be still alive, but the temporality, the passion, the maximalism and the realisation of the ideas while fresh, new, questionable and evoking protests, seem inevitable in this scenario. An interesting moment was that after realising that he had HIV, Bowery devoted all of his time to work and make his ideas come alive.
L.Bowery poses for artist Lucian Freud
L.Bowery is admired for his interdisciplinary practice, his creative work has contributed to development of a few areas in history — fashion, performance, music, design. The influence of this artist may be noticed in some works of younger or older contemporary artists. It seems that even if it was 17 years ago, and for most of us eighties was just a boring period without modern technologies and the Internet, L.Bowery somehow managed to cross the dimension of the time and get into the minds of the contemporary young people that seek braveness, inspiration and self expression. I strongly recommend watching the full documentary about the author; a deep look is taken into Bowery’s personal experiences, sexual life, friends and understanding of the style. This is necessary for those who really want to feel his spirit and the genius and irony of his thought.