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Horsley, Sebastian

Category: Artist and sculptor

 

Sebastian Horsley (born Marcus A. Horsley; 8 August 1962 – 17 June 2010[1]) was a London artist, a writer and a very funny witty man, whose main preoccupation in life appeared to be to shock as many staid narrow minded folk as possible – a sort of Nietzsche of the art world.  His writing is superb.  He also had the reputation of being a ‘dandy’:

There are only two actions I cannot tolerate. The first is wearing denim. The second is murder.”

Horsley wrote for the Observer newspaper for some time and also contributed a column to the monthly Erotic Review from 1998 to 2004.  His memoir, Dandy in the Underworld, named after the T.Rex album of same name (Horsley counted Marc Bolan as one of his idols) was published in the UK in September 2007 and in the USA in March 2008.

One of the prevailing impressions one gets from his writing is of his humanity.  And despite his reputation as a dandy, his ego was actually at a low ebb, if anything much of what he did was a sign of a battered ego not an over inflated one.  He thought about people, he cared about people and his effect on them, he was simply ‘nice’:

 

“Your section is outselling all the others” Adrian told me.
“That’s nice Adrian.” I replied. But inwardly I was concerned. My reputation was terrible, which comforted me a lot. But I hoped I hadn’t finished his.
It was all very strange. I went into this as a pig and I was coming out as a sausage. ...... On the one hand in the unlikely event that I had any effect on anything I wanted to be an inspiration to find yourself, not clone yourself. On the other I knew that if I was typical it would be the end of civilisation - which I was definitely up for.

He is on the site, partly because he is special, but also because he underwent Ibogaine treatment and his observation of what happened is quite graphic and extremely well-written.

We had all been asked to send images and songs which were dear to us. And to write a piece for the programme describing our outermost thoughts. I had brought Marc Bolan’s Dandy In The Underworld and sent a brief manifesto.

"Sebastian Horsley was reluctantly born in 1962. He is an artist, writer and failed suicide. To become a work of art was the object of his life. And you should never judge a work of art by its defects. Yes, he is preposterous, vulgar, absurd. But he answers no social need whatsoever. He is a futile blast of colour in a futile colourless world.

His autobiography “Dandy in the Underworld” will be published by Sceptre in September 2007. It features a middle-aged loser poncing around in make-up, fixing up drugs, fucking whores and failing successfully to be an artist. He is too beautiful for words, but not for books. He once was crucified and like God, he wants nothing but praise."


Horsley

Early Life

Horsley was born in Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire. He was the eldest son of Nicholas Horsley.  Their grandfather, Alec Horsley, was the founder of Northern Foods, and their father replaced him as chairman of the company from 1970 until the role was assumed by Christopher Haskins.

His mother, the former Valerie Edwards, and father divorced in 1975. As Horsley wrote in his memoirs, following the divorce of his parents in 1975: " everyone in my life who should have been vertical was horizontal." In an interview Horsley's mother gave to The Sunday Times, she admitted that her son's childhood was profoundly difficult: "I don't think Nicholas ever went to bed sober and I was always in a fog. Sebastian and my other two children were accidents and, though it seems shocking to admit, I drank all the way through my pregnancies."

The next morning I had a conversation with myself in the bath. It was a big day. I knew that the projection of style could be effected by three principal means - speech, movement and appearance. I was denied one so determined to push the others. I had a clear plan. The only way to succeed is to make certain people hate you. That way they remember you. And if you make some people hate you, then that will make those who like you love you that much more intensely.

The tragedies of his life continued unabated until his death.  In 1983, for example, Horsley married Evlynn Anne Smith (8 September 1962 – 18 April 2003), Horsley and Smith separated in 1990; she died of an aneurysm at age 40.

Sebastian as dandy

 Sebastian loved clothes and at one time he had an outstanding unpaid bill from his tailor for tens of thousands of pounds.  In 2007 he was asked by Comme de Garcon if he would agree to have a range of clothes designed around him:

 

I am off to take Paris by calm. I am about to make my entrance on the Catwalk modelling for Comme des Garcon’s. My new years resolution was to become more superficial. To stop being a man and become a mannequin. It's going quite well. Deep below the glitter, it's all solid tinsel.

It did not start well. I have always hated the fashion world. Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are. A substitute for taste. A barricade behind which women hide their nothingness. To a dandy it is the antithesis of style. Fashion can be bought. Style cannot. Style one must possess.

The opening exchange with Adrian Joffe the head of Comme des Garcons did not start well.
Him : “Would you consider modelling for us?”
Me : “Absolutely not. I design everything and I have everything made. My suits, my shirts, my socks, my shoes, my ties, my scarves, my coats, my gloves, my hats. When I walk in to a room I want people to say : ”There is Sebastian Horsley.” I don’t want them saying “There’s Ozwald Fucking Botang“ - nothing personal against Ozwald Fucking Botang you understand. You see, I never shop. I never wear brands apart from my own. I can't be a Clothes horse for you. I can only be a Clothes Horsley for me.”

I was reclining back so admiring my verbal dexterity that I was rather taken aback by Adrian’s reply.

“That’s exactly what we want you for.”

“Er, sorry?”

“We don’t just want to invite you onto the runway. We want to design a collection based on you. It has never happened before. Sure we have had people like John Malkovich wear our clothes but we have never used someone to inspire a season.”

Well, what can I say? Flattery has got to be pretty thick before I object to it.

Which is just as well, as Adrian was pretty and I was thick.


 

The ‘crucifixion’

In August 2000 Horsley travelled to the Philippines to experience a crucifixion, in order to prepare for a series of paintings on the topic.

Refusing pain killers, he was actually nailed to a cross! 

Needless to say, he passed out. The foot rest broke and he only avoided serious injury by being caught by onlookers.

A film and photos of the event, as well as his subsequent paintings of crosses, were exhibited in London in 2002.

 

Women

Sebastian appears to have had an insatiable appetite for sex – in fact he had an insatiable appetite for a number of things, but sex appears to have been fairly high on the list.  He would make an extremely interesting case study in the effects of serotoin imbalance caused by drugs, as he had many of the more obvious symptoms and appeared to be suffering from a pendulum that was swinging completely out of control between too little [depression, lack of hope, completely deflated ego] and overload [insatiable appetite, hyperactivity and a massive unfulfillable sex drive]. 

Interestingly, there was no noticeable aggression, one symptom of overload.  Simon was not an aggressive person.  He appears to have channelled this into sex – much of it sex with prostitutes - which is fascinating, as it is an ideal outlet for 'lust' [aggressive sex]. 

In early 2006, Horsley together with Marion McBride began to run a weekly sex advice column in The Observer. Four months later, after graphic discussions had led to numerous complaints from outraged readers, the column was discontinued. 

But when the serotonin pendulum had swung in the other direction, he became vulnerable, and love for women figured very strongly.  Overall, he seems to have had a deep respect for beautiful women, even though he jokes about it:

Rachel  the object of his affections ..

Rachel was up and dressed and tottering around the bedroom like Jessica Rabbit.
Most men, when they cannot catch a bird of paradise, settle for a chicken. I have never been a chicken kind of guy.
My God, look at her. Nature never blunders : when she makes someone beautiful, she means it. Here was a girl who could not have been invented if the whole world had sat up all night.

Squaw, doormat, trophy, Barbie.

She had the shy, modest, virginal, sexless look of the professional nymphomaniac.

When I looked at her I almost fainted with pleasure.

Her figure resembled a giant economy size tube of toothpaste squeezed in the middle to acquire a shape that defied definition. Her long smooth neck, and the elegant S of her body, exaggerated by the extraordinary curve of her spine that made her breasts swell further forward and her bottom further back.

She looked as though she were offering to kiss the whole world across an invisible shop counter. God would have made everyone like her if He had the money……………………………

Horsley was denied entry into the United States on 19 March 2008, after arriving at Newark Airport for a book tour. Immigration officers denied his entry claiming issues of ‘moral turpitude’.  After eight hours of questioning, he was placed on a plane and sent back to London. Horsley had told the Associated Press that he had prepared for the visit; his one concession: removing his nail polish.

Syphilis

On January 24, 2007, Sebastian found out he had syphilis:..........

 

Wonderful News! I’ve got syphilis!

I simply can’t believe it. I never thought anything that exciting ever happened to me…………….

I found a phone box. I had to call someone. There was never any question of who it would be. Henry, my publicist.

“Henry! Henry! I’ve got the most marvellous news! I’ve got syphilis! I can't tell you how happy I am! It is unthinkable for a dandy to arrive at middle age without having syphilis. Without it, one simply cannot claim genius.”

“But what are you going to do about it?”

“Prepare a press release immediately will you my darling?”

I strolled down Tottenham Court Road smiling and tipping my boater to all and sundry. It’s no longer a question of staying healthy! It’s a question of finding a sickness you like! VD is nothing to clap about! Gonorrhoea is so suburban! But Syphilis! Ivan the Terrible, Charles Baudelaire, Al Capone, Rochester, Beau Brummell, all syphilitics, roped together like mountaineers heading for the summit of beauty! Boy am I diseased and pleased!

I’m so glad I spoke to Henry. I just love publicity! And of course, I am always well prepared. I carry a donor card in my pocket which says “In case of heart attack, call a press conference.”


This coincided with a show he was booked to do for Comme des Garcon.

I had been down to have a sauna and hopefully get raped at the same time since consenting sex was off the menu.

With “Dandy In The Underworld” on my whistling lips and a fold of Rachel's silk underpants [the same Rachel mentioned above] trapped between my well-powdered buttocks, I waltzed onto the catwalk caked in make up, covered with Syphilis, and knew deep in my artificial heart as I approached the blazing arc lights and the wall of Paparazzi flashes at the end of the runway that life simply didn’t get any better.

Let me tell you it was a spiritual moment.

Jesus was wrong.

It is better to go to Hell well tailored than to Heaven in rags.


Sebastian in 2010 with Stephen Fry

Death

Horsley was found dead at his London home on 17 June 2010 of a heroin and cocaine overdose.

A friend, the journalist Toby Young, said he believed Horsley's death was an accident: "If it had been suicide Sebastian would not have passed up the opportunity to write a note. It's a tragic loss of life."

In an interview in April 2008, Horsley romanticised dying "destitute in the arms of a prostitute," though not immediately dying "if that's alright with you."

This somewhat shows that Ibogaine certainly has an effect, but unless the intent is there and the ‘purification’ process gone through, round you go again.  I’m not sure Sebastian even wanted to be purified, everything he was, was defined by his unconventionality and his memories of dysfunction.

In 2007 he even wrote:

As we pulled in to the station I realised that I hadn't been to Paris for years. I had spent my eighteenth birthday here in a brothel smoking opium. And about ten years ago I decided to run away to Paris to try and get off crack. It was my birthday. I had sat alone in a tiny hotel for a week. Smoking crack as it happens. I hated it then. ……..But I was straight now.

His funeral took place on 1 July 2010, at St James's, Piccadilly, and was attended by more than 400 mourners, among them Marc Almond and the writer Will Self. Horsley's coffin arrived at the church in a horse-drawn hearse. Among those who paid tribute to him was Stephen Fry who spoke of his friend's "essential sweetness" and his "brown eyes" that stopped "just short of pleading". The coffin was carried out of the church to the strains of Marc Bolan's "20th Century Boy".

People who understand the spirit of Marc Bolan do not read the Guardian. They do not need to. They understand the dance. “Well, you dance when you walk so lets dance take a chance understand me.”

And they know that it is not enough to know how to make a dazzling entry : that you need to know how to vacate the stage with the same panache.

References

Sebastian Horsley page  - a sort of diary still available for access

 

Observations

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