Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"Modern Art on Legs"

June is LGBT Pride month. To kick off the celebration, here is a profile on the glam-fucking-tastic gaylien force, Leigh Bowery. I hope you enjoy the series on LGBT icons I have in store for you these next 30 days.

Leigh Bowery grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Australia.

Miserable in his working class town, he shied away from boys his own age who were more interested in playing sports or sneaking a delightful peek at pornographic photos. Instead, Leigh hid under his covers at night pouring over the latest fashion magazines and kept his weekends filled with classic films, especially those starring his idol, Elizabeth Taylor.

When he graduated high school, the chubby teenager attended fashion school in Melbourne, but got bored after a year and moved to London in 1981, with nothing but a suitcase and sewing machine. He was ready to take on the world.

He moved in with two guys who were hip to the homosexual party scene and he started his career as a fashion designer. His outfits were so outrageously loud, colorful, and bizarre, he got noticed by the industry immediately.

Everywhere he went, whether it was out to the grocery store on a lazy afternoon or partying at the hottest dance club, people stared. They had never seen someone like him before!
 His wigs! His face paint! His shoes! Who was this Leigh Bowery?!

He showcased his collection at London Fashion Week and all over the world. His clothes were sold at Barney's. He even designed stage costumes for a hot new pop star named Boy George.

While he was on top of the world, Leigh started a disco night club called Taboo. It became the hottest place to be in London, with orgies practically manifesting themselves on the dance floor. The drunk DJ spinning without a record. Celebrities getting high...or down. And as the queen of the ball, Leigh lit up the room every night with his jaw-dropping attire.

He wore everything from white lacy nightgowns to an actual disco ball on top of his head. His most popular outfit involved a glittery Chanel-inspired jacket with a plastic toy policeman's helmet.

In 1986, however, the club closed down when the tabloids revealed the "shocking" exploits carrying on every night.

But it didn't matter because Leigh was bored with it all already. He was in the midst of moving on into another career: performance art.

Without much trouble, the party monster booked gigs all over London.

He did everything from pretend to give birth on stage to channeling Jewish persecution in World War II.

In 1993, he added another job on his resume when he started a pop band with a few friends. Their single, "Useless Man," became a hit in Europe.

But while he was busy shocking the world with his bold artistic expression, Leigh's life was literally falling apart.

In the mid-1980s, he had been diagnosed as HIV positive. He only told a couple friends at the time, begging them to keep his secret. He didn't want the deadly disease to overshadow his work.

He even married a close friend, Nicola, as performance art, and never even told her what was going on with him.

But by late 1994, seven months after their marriage, the tired artist could no longer keep his illness in the dark. He grew increasingly sick, having to cancel gigs and spend weeks in the hospital.

It was time to tell everyone.

In January of 1995, Leigh passed away, right after pleading with his friends to simply tell people he had moved to Bolivia to become a pig farmer. He still didn't want the disease to be his legacy. It just didn't seem fair.

Fortunately, his wish came true.

Since his death, Leigh has been remembered in three books (two biographies and one photo collection), a documentary, countless art shows, and in Boy George's Broadway musical, "Taboo."

His eclectic style has influenced artists like Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, and Lady Gaga.

People remember his spirit. Not his death.

Not bad for a "Bolivian pig farmer," eh?


Couture Carrie said...

Amazing bio and pics!
So psyched about this series, darling :)


Cafe Fashionista said...

I love his freaky deaky look - you can definitely see how his style influenced McQueen and Gaga! :)

The Dainty Dolls House said...

This was awesome, I loved it!! Am glad he was remembered for what he created and not what took his life, that would have been a real shame. I sometimes think why can people not just be gay and that's it, we don't go on about how someone is straight, it shouldn't make a difference, I hope one day it won't and we won't have to say if someone is gay, just say that we care for them or that they're a great person :))) He created some amazing things!! Have a great week doll xx

Ali of Dressing Ken said...

Wow, great post.

Ali of

Dressing Ken

Meri said...

Gaga and Minaj- bow down! I've never heard of him but enjoyed this story and look forward to your other features this month!

Kim Alston said...

WOW! What a talent! I did not know his story Jennifer. Here I thought McQueen and the others thought of all this stuff. Gosh, he was the mastermind. It's sad he and so many succumbed due to HIV-AIDS. Can you imagine the things they would've come up now. Excellent post doll.

Shannon said...

It is so sad but as I was reading this, I just knew his fate was to end up HIV positive.

Many homosexuals during that time frame didn't even know about HIV and so many had their lives cut short because of it...

Laia herrero said...

Very Impressed is such a sad end for a magnificent character, it's the first part I heard about him, great story for a pig farmer.


Rosh S said...

Amazing post! I truly love reading anything you write, Jennifer .. cause you make it come alive. I am glad he was remembered for his whacky style and inspired for many after his death :)

ravenlocks said...

His legacy really does live on! I always wondered who some of these celebrities would try to copy. Everyone compares Lady Gaga to Madonna...but I guess even Madge had to copy someone, huh? ;)

Love that you didn't make this story based around his death...but instead about his life. His death was another chapter, not the title nor the moral of the story.

Have a great weekend, Jen!

xo Azu

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