If Leigh Bowery tells you nothing, it is high time for you to have a quick read below. Once our article covered, it will appear as an evidence of attending this festival in his honor, the programming provided and ambitious!
Price : 12/15€ – 2 days pass : 22€ – Time : 23h
Judged in his day as an ostentatious outsider with all the artistic gravitas of a punk/goth drag queen, Leigh Bowery etched out a career and reputation that stands to this day as a testament to the underground subculture of the 1980′s club scene.
Having moved to London from Australia as a portly young man given to sever bouts of depression and a keen hatred of his own body the performance artist found camaraderie with performance artist, Guy Barnes and soon to be painter David Walls. Soon however Bowery turned from Barns’ influence and began creating looks reminiscent of early 20th century dandyism.
The medium of performance appealed to Bowery and his early work became a response to fantasy fetishism and 1980′s decadence As he settled into the ultra urban life of London’s club district he slowly began to gain popularity for his quirky and usually salacious style of dress. His work managed to convey a beauty and grotesqueness in unison. His deep disdain for his size began to represent itself in the garments and creations he was quickly becoming popular for. He began to accentuate his large frame with additional shapes and unnatural proportions.
On a cultural note it’s interesting to remember that at this time in Great Britten, Margaret Thatcher was still in power and times were difficult for Bowery both financially and socially. Although he had never professed to being a homosexual (and in fact was briefly married to a woman) what he considered his artistic work was often balked at and equated to little more than drag-queen-circus freak. His opportunity and, arguably,only escape was in the secret underworld of pansexual nightclubs. To these clubbers London was the Wiemar republic of the 1980s.
Officially, Bowery would describe himself as a fashion designer and club promoter, although his early fashion career is often ignored, he had considerable artistic success and it included several collections in London Fashion week, shows at the ICA, The Camden Palace as well as in New York, and Tokyo.
These events were not, however the work that Bowrey really wanted to do.
Usually the shows met with critical acclaim even though little of it could translate to the commercial sphere.
In 1981 Bowery began showing regularly at London’s equivalent of Studio54, Taboo. The wild and extreme atmosphere would prove to be the perfect venue for the sort of avant garde demonstrations of self that he would become infamous for.
Bowery as a child had been very studious and socially ostracised and uncomfortable in his own skin. His most famous and influential work centered around exhibiting and exaggerating these insecurities.
Many have speculated that his designs were, at their core, armor to guard what he thought of as flaws in plain site of the audience. This approach is innately confrontational and as aggressive as it is effective. For his piece entitled “cunt” his entire body becomes an entire effigy of the uncomfortable in subject matter, title, form, and restrictive qualities.
Another of his works (orange head), distorts his face into a puff ball of material with the belly and butt of the costume distended to the point of revulsion. Unlike other club sensations, Bowery was highly intelligent, well read, passionate about art in all it’s forms and an expert seamster. In “cowboy” and “birthday cake” the evidence of his extremely meticulous construction and acute attention to form and detail makes him far away more interesting then his contemporaries, James st. James, Michael Alec and Amanda Limpor. Nor does he fit into the category of female impersonator.
His costumes are not intended to glamorize women or even aide in making him appear more feminine, instead he achieves something beyond that, something in the realm of androgyny without regard to gender roles or artifice.
In 1988, after the decline of Taboo, he had a week-long show at d’Offay’s, a prestigious gallery in London’s West End. The show consisted of Bowery lolling on a chaise chaise longer behind a two-way mirror, all the while primping and preening in a variety of garments while gallery patron looked on. In hind sight it was most likely the audacity of this brand of overtly queer narcissism that captivated most viewers, critics and other artists, but Bowery’s exquisite appearance, silence and intense self-absorption were further accentuated by his own recordings of random and abrasive traffic noises which were played for the shows duration.
Truly an artistic achievement it reminds us vaguely of the kind of interesting and pivotal performance happenings of the dadaists and the “human canvas” movements in the 1970′s.
Later in his career Bowery had his cheeks pierced to allow safety pins to be used as mouth stretching implements. The effect was and continues to be astonishing. The incredibly grotesque addition to his costume pushed his idea of self-distortion even further. It’s during this time that he was approached by internationally renowned painter Lucian Freud to sit for a series of paintings. Lucian was attracted to the broad surfaces of skin and painted them with an incredible level of respect and intimacy capturing the light and the shape of Bowery’s body with a confident grace and empathy. In return Bowery asked for a pile of Freud’s brush-cleaning rags which he set about cutting up and rearranging to create a mosaic 12′x12′ of Hitler’s face that he sent back to Freud.
Witty, talented, intelligent and an amazing craftsman Bowery’s artistic contributions are far reaching. Affecting great designers like Alexander McQueen and Drag Queens like Pussy Tourette and Painter’s like Lucian Freud, Bowery’s insistence on pushing himself and expressing the hypocrisy of fashion and taste he forever questioned the ideas of beauty. He managed to capture, in every piece, the fine line and competition of the grotesque and the beautiful.
Source: Michael Frazier – Color Theory sat-9am – Research Project