The Fitzrovia Chapel will celebrate the life and work of the rebel performance artist
Equal parts genius, comic, and terrifying, the life and legacy of Leigh Bowery is set to be memorialised in an exhibition at London’s Fitzrovia Chapel. Hailing from a sleepy Melbourne suburb, Bowery first came to London in 1980 where he built a reputation on the club circuit for monstrously flamboyant fashions and sinful performance art, spraying audiences with his fresh enema, puking into his fellow band members’ mouths, and “giving birth” to his wife using sausage umbilical cords. His time was ultimately cut short when he died of AIDS-related complications in 1994 but his feral creativity left an indelible stain on the culture and catwalks of today.
The exhibition, Leigh Bowery: Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea, will be held in the only remaining building of the Middlesex Hospital, where Bowery passed, and is a reference to the rumours that the artist had spread surrounding his disappearance from the club scene – he’d often say he was going to Papua New Guinea to research anthropological tribe masks. The chapel will also play host to a short film comprising interviews with some of Bowery’s close friends and collaborators including his wife Nicola, Boy George, and BodyMap founder David Holah. Dr Rob Miller, who looked after Bowery when he was at the Middlesex, and who is now a trustee of the chapel, is also interviewed.
The buck wild costumes Bowery would debut at Heaven, Asylum, and Taboo – all gimp masks, towering platforms, and ratty pubic wigs – make up the focal points of the show. Back then, it was provocative to the point of perverse, a total theatricalisation of the self, whereby Bowery would carve holes in his cheeks for safety-pin piercings, gaffer tape his flesh into impossibly feminine silhouettes, and drip his bald pate in hot glue. Meanwhile, in the daytime, Bowery designed costumes for Culture Club and Michael Clark’s dance company and dabbled in art direction for Massive Attack. He was the unlikely but brilliant star of a Pepe Jeans campaign and, having turned his natural exhibitionism into a live-in exhibit at London’s Anthony D’Offay gallery, became Lucian Freud’s muse and the subject of the late painter’s nude series.
From Alexander McQueen to Rick Owens, read more about Bowery’s impact on designers here and head down to Fitzrovia Chapel from January 7 to February 6 to catch the exhibition.