Leigh Bowery

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Leigh Bowery
Leigh Bowery Multi glasses from Taboo art showing .jpg
Born (1961-03-26)26 March 1961
Sunshine, Victoria, Australia
Died 31 December 1994(1994-12-31) (aged 33)
London, England
Occupation Performance artist, fashion designer, club promoter, actor, model
Years active 1980–1994
Spouse(s) Nicola Bateman (married 13 May 1994)

Leigh Bowery (26 March 1961 – 31 December 1994) was an Australian performance artist, club promoter, and fashion designer. Based in London for much of his adult life, he was a significant model and muse[1] for the English painter Lucian Freud.

Early life and early years in London[edit]

Bowery was born and raised in Sunshine, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. From an early age, he studied music, played piano, and went on to study fashion and design at RMIT for a year.[2] He moved to London in 1980: 'I was so itchy to see new things and to see the world that I just left', he said in 1987.[3] There he found himself part of the New Romantic club scene. He worked in a clothing shop and appeared in commercials for Pepe jeans. He soon became an influential and lively figure in the underground clubs of London and New York, as well as in art and fashion circles. He attracted attention by wearing wildly outlandish and creative outfits that he made himself. He became friends and roommates with Guy Barnes (known as "Trojan") and David Walls: Bowery created costumes for them to wear, and the trio became known in the clubs as the Three Kings.[4] In 2005 The National Portrait Gallery of Australia acquired a portrait of Bowery in his infamous fur coat by photographer David Gwinnutt. In 2007 The National Portrait Gallery, London purchased the David Gwinnutt portrait of Leigh Bowery and Trojan (Guy Barnes) which also appears in the Violette Editions book.

Taboo[5][edit]

He was known as a club promoter, and created the club called Taboo, which began as an underground party, and then opened as a club in 1985. Taboo soon became "the place to be" with long queues for those waiting to get in. Drugs, particularly ecstasy, became a part of the dancing scene for the attendees. The club was known for defying sexual convention, for embracing "polysexualism", for creating a wild atmosphere, and for playing unexpected song selections.[6]

Fashion and costume design[edit]

As a fashion designer he had several collections and shows in London, New York and Tokyo. He has influenced designers and artists. He was known for wildly creative costumes, makeup, wigs and headgear, all of which combined to be striking and inventive and often kitschy or beautiful.[7]

He also designed costumes for the Michael Clark Dance Company. When that company performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1987, Bowery won a Bessie Award for his work on No Fire Escape in Hell.[8][9]

Performance artist[edit]

As a performance artist he enjoyed creating the costumes, and often shocking audiences. He first appeared at the Anthony D'Offay Gallery in London in 1988. In a signature performance, he would appear on stage in outlandish drag or other costume, looking very huge. He would sing and dance about. Then suddenly, much to the audience's surprise, he would drop onto his back and simulate giving birth to a petite and naked young woman, who was his friend, assistant, and later wife Nicola Bateman. She had been hidden for the first part of the performance by being strapped to Leigh's belly with her face in his crotch. Then she would slip out of her harness, and appear to pop out of Bowery's belly along with a lot of stage blood and links of sausages, while Bowery wailed. Bowery would then bite off the umbilical cord and the two would take a bow. Boy George said he saw it a number of times, and that it "never ceased to impress or revolt".[10][11]

Lucian Freud's model[edit]

In London in 1988, Bowery met the noted painter Lucian Freud in his club Taboo. They were introduced by a friend they had in common, the artist Cerith Wyn Evans. Freud had seen Bowery perform at Anthony d'Offay Gallery, in London. In Bowery's first public appearance in the context of fine art, Bowery posed behind a one-way mirror in the gallery dressed in the flamboyant costumes he was known for.

Bowery used his body and manipulation of his flesh to create personas. This involved almost masochistically taping his torso and piercing his cheeks with pins in order to hold masks, as well as wearing outlandish makeup. Freud said, "the way he edits his body is amazingly aware and amazingly abandoned". In return, Bowery said of Freud: "I love the psychological aspect of his work – in fact I sometimes felt as if I had been undergoing psychoanalysis with him ... His work is full of tension. Like me he is interested in the underbelly of things."[12] Bowery posed for a number of large full-length paintings that are considered among Freud's best work. The paintings tend to exaggerate Bowery's 6-foot 3inch, and 17 stone physique to monumental proportions. The paintings had a strong impact as part of Freud's exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994. Freud said he found him "perfectly beautiful", and commented, "His wonderfully buoyant bulk was an instrument I felt I could use, especially those extraordinary dancer's legs." Freud noted that Leigh by nature was a shy and gentle man, and his flamboyant persona was in part a form of self-defense.[13][14][15][16]

Jonathan Jones, writing for The Guardian describes Freud’s portrait, Leigh Bowery (seated):[17]

Bowery is a character out of Renaissance art - perhaps Silenus, the companion of Dionysus. His flesh is a magnificent ruin, at once damaged and riotously alive. Who knew skin was so particoloured? To count the hues of even one of his feet is impossible: purple, grey, yellow, brown, the paint creamy, calloused, bulging. In a velvet chair tilted down towards us on the raked stage of the wooden studio floor, his mass looms up and dwarfs us. Walk close your eyes are probably the height of his penis. Bowery's violet-domed, wrinkly tube hangs between thighs marked with sinister spots or cuts his knees are massive. Bowery is a painted monument who quietly contemplates his existence inside this flesh.

— Jonathan Jones, The Guardian 18 November 2000

Minty[edit]

Promotional still from the documentary The Legend of Leigh Bowery.

In 1993, Bowery formed the band Minty with friend knitwear designer Richard Torry, Nicola Bateman, and Matthew Glammore.

In November 1994, Minty began a two-week-long show at London's Freedom Cafe, including audience member Alexander McQueen, but it was too much for Westminster City Council, who closed the show down after only one night. This was to be Bowery's last performance. The show was documented by photographer A.M. Hanson with imagery subsequently published in books about Bowery[18][19] and McQueen.[20][21] Minty was a financial loss and represented a low point in Bowery's colourful career. After his death, the band continued under the leadership of Bateman and Glammore up until the release of album Open Wide. A spin-off band called The Offset later formed including artist Donald Urquhart.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Although Bowery was known to be and always described himself as gay, he married his long-time female companion Nicola Bateman on 13 May 1994 in Tower Hamlets, London, in "a personal art performance". Although he had been HIV positive for six years, very few of those who knew him guessed that; he typically explained his public absence by saying he had gone to Papua, New Guinea.[23] His wife did not know that Bowery had the virus until he was admitted to hospital. He died 7 months after his marriage, on New Year's Eve 1994 (the date has been disputed by his father, who says he actually died in the early hours of New Year's Day, 1995[24]), from an AIDS-related illness at the Middlesex Hospital, Westminster, London, five weeks after his admission.[25] Lucian Freud paid for Bowery's body to be flown back to Australia.

Taboo, the musical[edit]

Boy George was the creative force, the lyricist and performer in the musical Taboo, which was loosely based on Bowery's club. The musical was produced in 2002 on the West End in London, and then opened on Broadway. As a performer, Boy George played a character named "Leigh Bowery".[26]

In an interview conducted by Mark Ronson for Interview Magazine Boy George said that Bowery would sometimes speak with a posh English accent, and one didn't always know if he was sincere or mocking: He seemed to be "in character" at all times. He[who?] decorated his flat in a style that was similar to the way he dressed, with Star Trek-themed wallpaper, mirrors and a large piano. He was a ringleader of misbehavior, and with his club, he created a place where there were no rules. At the peak of his fame in the clubs he would distort his body in various ways, so that he would appear deformed, or pregnant or with breasts. Bowery once said, "Flesh is my most favorite fabric."[11]

In popular culture[edit]

Bowery influenced other artists and designers including Meadham Kirchhoff, Alexander McQueen, Lucian Freud, Vivienne Westwood, Boy George, Antony and the Johnsons, Lady Gaga, John Galliano, Scissor Sisters, David LaChapelle, Lady Bunny, Acid Betty, Shea Couleé plus numerous Nu-Rave bands and nightclubs in London and New York City.

Bowery was the main inspiration for the Tranimal drag movement, which emphasized an animalistic and post-modern take on drag.[27][28]

The look of the character Vulva in the third episode of British TV comedy series Spaced was inspired by Leigh Bowery.[29]

In Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy season 2 episode 2, Noel is advised to give his fantasy block a physical / visual form. He describes it as ...rotund but kind of stylish, like a Leigh Bowery creation. Bowery had been an influence on Fielding's outlandish costume characters.[30]

Bowery was the subject of a contemporary dance, physical theatre and circus show in August 2018 at the Edinburgh fringe festival, put on by Australian choreographer Andy Howitt.[5][31]

Published works[edit]

  • Leigh Bowery Verwandlungskünstler, editor Angela Stief, published by Piet Meyer Verlag, Vienna, (2015); ISBN 9783905799316
  • Leigh Bowery Looks, by Leigh Bowery, Fergus Greer, published by Thames & Hudson Ltd; New Ed edition (2005); ISBN 0-500-28566-7
  • Leigh Bowery Looks by Leigh Bowery, Fergus Greer, published by Violette Editions (2006); ISBN 1-900828-27-8
  • Leigh Bowery, Violette Editions, London, (1998), ISBN 978-1-900828-04-8

Minty Discography[edit]

Album[edit]

  • Open Wide (Candy Records, CAN 2LP/CAN 2CD, LP/CD, 1997)[32]
  1. Procession
  2. Minty
  3. That's Nice
  4. Plastic Bag
  5. Useless Man
  6. Homage (Duet For Piano And Wineglass)
  7. Manners Mean
  8. King Size
  9. Hold On
  10. Nothing
  11. Homme Aphrodite (Part 1)
  12. Homme Aphrodite (Part 2)
  13. Dream
  14. Art?
  15. Jeremy

Singles[edit]

  • Useless Man (Candy Records, CAN 1CD, 1994)[32]
  1. Useless Man
  • Plastic Bag (Sugar, SUGA6CD, 1995)[32]
  1. Plastic Bag
  2. Minty (Live)
  • That's Nice (Sugar, SUGA 10CD, 1996)[32]
  1. That's Nice
  • Nothing (Candy Records, CAN3CD, 1997)[32]
  1. Nothing
  2. Carol Ginger Baker

All singles also included multiple remixes of the lead tracks.[32]

Compilation[edit]

  • The Offset (Poppy Records, POPPYCD6, 1997)[32]
  1. It's A Game (pt1)

Partial videography[edit]

  • Hail the New Puritan (1985–6), Charles Atlas
  • Generations of Love (1990), Baillie Walsh for Boy George
  • Teach (1992), Charles Atlas
  • A Smashing Night Out (1994), Matthew Glamorre
  • Death in Vegas (1994), Mark Hasler
  • Performance at Fort Asperen (1994)
  • Flour (single screen version) (1995), Angus Cook
  • U2: Popmart - Live from Mexico City (1997), Dancer during 'Lemon Mix'
  • Read Only Memory (estratto) (1998), John Maybury

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ellen, Barbara (2002-07-20). "Leigh Bowery, ideal husband". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-25. 
  2. ^ Bowery, Leigh. Hannover, Kunstverein, editor. Zechlin, René, ed. Stuffer, Ute, ed. Leigh Bowery. Kehrer Publications (2008) ISBN 978-3-86828-033-3
  3. ^ Jillian Burt 'Night Owl Spreads His Wings' Melbourne Age 11 February 1987 p. 18
  4. ^ "Leigh Bowery, 33, Artist and Model". New York Times. 7 January 1995.
  5. ^ a b Cochrane, Lauren (2018-08-13). "Sex, sin and sausages: the debauched brilliance of Leigh Bowery". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-08-13. 
  6. ^ Bowery, Leigh. Hannover, Kunstverein, editor. Zechlin, René, ed. Ute StufferLeigh, Ute, ed. Leigh Bowery. Kehrer Publications (2008) ISBN 978-3-86828-033-3
  7. ^ "The Night I Put Leigh Bowery on the Catwalk". The Guardian. 1 November 2015.
  8. ^ Ellen, Barbara. "Leigh Bowery, ideal husband " The Guardian. 20 July 2002
  9. ^ Webb, Iain. R. "The Night I Put Leigh Bowery on the Catwalk". The Guardian. 1 November 2015.
  10. ^ Richardson, John. "Postscript; Leigh Bowery". The New Yorker. 16 January 1995.
  11. ^ a b Ronson, Mark. Boy George. "Culture; TABOO" Interview Magazine. 20 January 2009.
  12. ^ Manchester, Elizabeth. “Lucian Freud, Leigh Bowery (1991)”. Tate Britain website. March 2003
  13. ^ Hauser, Kitty. "Leigh Bowery and Lucian Freud: the model and the artist”. The Australian. 4 July 2015
  14. ^ Richardson, John. “Postscript; Leigh Bowery”. The New Yorker. 16 January 1995.
  15. ^ MacDonell, Nancy. In the Know: The Classic Guide to Being Cultured and Cool. Penguin (2007) ISBN 9781440619762
  16. ^ Coffield, Darren (2013-05-01). Factual Nonsense: The Art and Death of Joshua Compston. Troubador Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781780885261. 
  17. ^ Jonathan Jones (18 November 2000). "Leigh Bowery (Seated), Lucian Freud (1990)". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2018. 
  18. ^ Leigh Bowery (Violette Editions) 1998
  19. ^ Leigh Bowery Verwandlungskünstler, ed: Angela Stief (Piet Meyer Verlag) 2015
  20. ^ Alexander McQueen The Life and The Legacy, Judith Watt (Harper Design) 2012
  21. ^ Alexander McQueen Blood Beneath the Skin, Andrew Wilson (Simon & Schuster) 2015
  22. ^ Urquhart, Donald (February 2009). "Back in the Gay". Out. ISSN 1062-7928. 
  23. ^ Phillip Hoare (5 January 1995). "Obituaries Leigh Bowery". The Independent. Retrieved 13 August 2018. 
  24. ^ https://meanjin.com.au/blog/a-dilettantes-31-dot-points-on-the-unveiling-of-the-bowery-theatre-st-albans/
  25. ^ Ian Parker (26 February 1995). "A BIZARRE BODY OF WORK". The Independent. Retrieved 13 August 2018. 
  26. ^ Spencer, Charles. "Mad About the Boy" The Telegraph. 31 January 2002
  27. ^ Romano, Tricia (1 December 2009). "How to Become a Tranimal". BlackBook. Retrieved 8 May 2014. 
  28. ^ Clifton, Jamie (26 June 2012). "Why Be a Tranny When You Can Be a Tranimal?". Vice. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  29. ^ "Episode Guide: Series One: Official: Episode Three". Spaced Out. 
  30. ^ "Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Profiles - All 4". www.channel4.com. Retrieved 31 July 2017. 
  31. ^ "Sunshine Boy". Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Retrieved 2018-08-13. 
  32. ^ a b c d e f g Minty discography on discogs.com

Further reading[edit]

Audio
Video

External links[edit]