Leigh Bowery: Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea
“Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea” is what artist Leigh Bowery instructed his friend Sue, when he approached the end of his short life, dying from AIDS at only 33. In that sliver of time, Bowery left his native Australia and descended upon London like a whirlwind of creativity with his stunningly original outfits and groundbreaking performance art. Bowery also fronted the performance art-band Minty which though not technically a punk band had a great punk sensibility, being anarchic as hell, which is how I came to see them and how I learned about Bowery. I thought Minty, though popular with audiences, did not get enough respect from the music press (which was pretty blokey and, I daresay, homophobic). But the marvelous Bowery, all 6 feet + of him, was a great front man.
I admired Bowery’s art and life and I was very happy to see this small but lovely exhibition at the gorgeous Fitzrovia Chapel in London. The show displays seven of Bowery’s astonishing handmade costumes and a gripping documentary by Hannah Watson that interviews many o the artist’s friends, collaborators, and admirers. It is a warm, honest and intelligent portrait of a rare artistic soul.
The exhibition, which I visited twice, has a wonderful catalogue published by the Fitzrovia Chapel. Bowery had a connection to the chapel: it was the chapel of the old Middlesex Hospital – now demolished – where he was treated for AIDS and where he passed away. The gorgeous golden interior of the small space is a fitting place to showcase Bowery’s exuberant, colourful style. It is so heartening to see how many people attended the show, people of all ages, coming to pay homage to a creative spirit that death could not quench. Bowery is, of course, immortalized in portraits by Lucien Freud.
I could write more but I think the article in Brut Journal by Cathy Ward – an amazing artist herself – does a better job than I could of reviewing the show. Here it is, enjoy!
by Cathy Ward. Brutjournal Feb 2022