Leigh Bowery

We had a wonderful Melbourne Festival night on Saturday – part one was “Life, Art and Leigh Bowery”, a talk presented by Richard Watts, Le Gateau Chocolat, Paul Capsis and Boy George.

I first met Leigh Bowery in early 1986, flipping through the pages of the latest Face magazine. I couldn’t help but notice – he was rather striking in his self-made costumes!

As a costume student, I loved that – and over the years he turned up from time to time with his amazing fashion designs, some of which are now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, and probably other places too.

I wish I had thought of him when I lived in the UK, in the early ’90s: it’s quite amazing to think you could go out to a club and see someone so fresh and unique as Leigh, a living artwork pushing boundaries and probably offending people. As someone wrote in Wikipedia “he was no wallflower”.

Unfortunately, he left us in ’94, an all too early death – depriving us of one of the boldest, most outrageous personalities of modern times.

Many people do not even realise that he was Melbourne born and raised, and studied fashion at RMIT for a year before finding his natural home amongst the London alternative and gay club scene.

It’s great to see him receiving recognition for his brave cultural contribution: certainly he’s influenced many from Boy George to Alexander McQueen.

We really need people like Leigh to go where the rest of us are too shy and well behaved to go.

What particularly impresses me, is that no matter how many images you see of him in action, the person beneath the make up and amazing costumes remains elusive.
Truly androgynous, he managed to erase all traces of gender. It’s even hard to see his facial features in many images.

Leigh Bowery’s confident and colourful persona represents some of the best parts of the 1980s, even whilst being confrontational and crass. I don’t like vulgarity but sometimes artistic integrity can trump it.


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