Sebastian Horsley, the artist, was recently crucified in the Philippines. S: I live in terror of being understood. No question. That's part of H: So what's your definition of a genius?
The resulting images formed the basis for his most recent show. Dandy,
columnist for The Erotic Review and rake par excellence. Sebastian gives
Large an exclusive interview.
G: When you were little, how did you see yourself and how you related to
S: How did I see myself? Incessantly.
G: When did you first think you might be a dandy? Did you dress up as a boy?
S: Well that was my mother's influence. She used to alternate between an
incredibly glamorous movie star and a tramp. She led me into a life long exotic swoon from which I have never really recovered. When I was ten I saw Marc Bolan and that really did it and then I went through a phase of wearing my mother's clothes, women's clothes...
G: As one does...
S: But being a dandy is not a profession, it's a condition, something you
just can't help...
G: You mean a vocation?
S: No, a condition. It is both a response to suffering and a celebration of life.
G: A treatable condition?
S: Yes, clothes are the medication.
G: When did you have your first sexual experience and with whom?
S: Does Onan the Barbarian count? (masturbation)
S: At 12 with an Indian woman who I fell in love with. We remained friends.
I still have the receipt.
G: What is the strangest sexual experience you've ever had?
S: Hmmn... (pause) Look, I'm not a fag, but I suppose the strangest have
been with men. I'd go for men (I don't any more), who were very dominant and potentially violent... that's what I liked. I liked to have my free will
taken from me.
G: What do you think of pigeonhole terms like gay, bi or straight? Are they
S: I hate faggots. I take great pride in my prejudice. But these terms are
very limiting. After all, the difference between homosexuality and
heterosexuality is merely a couple of bottles of wine or one smoke of crack.
G: You've lived in Soho for a long time, why?
S: I like to be close to my sin. Also, In a beautiful area I would be superfluous. In an ugly one I am a narcotic. Originally I lived in Shepherd's Market but that went down hill when the prostitutes moved out, but Soho's gone down hill. Ten years ago, on a good night, you could get your throat cut. Now it's full of weave-your-own-yoghurt places, gay hairdressers and coffee bars. There's even a fucking health club. A heath club in Soho for Satan’s sake. That’s like having a brothel in a church.
G: What was your first experience with drugs?
S: Well, I never touched drugs until I was twelve. I remember stealing a friend's marijuana.
G: Do you see yourself continuing the noble tradition of the rake and if so
who are your heroes?
S: I am a peacock without a cause, a rebel without applause. I am also deaf to everything except applause. I would define myself as a Romantic Nihilist and yes, I am a dandy, but that all depends on how you define a dandy. Dandyism to me is not a suit of clothes. Clothes are the least important part of a dandy. Dandyism to me is a spiritual doctrine. It's a way of stripping
yourself of everything, except your true identity, so you can only judge the
style by the content but you can only reach the content through the style. And of course style is merely the outer skin of your ideas. I am actually wearing my thoughts, my attitudes to life.
G: What about your heroes?
S: I am a disciple of Satan and Satin. Actually, my first, as I think I said, was Marc Bolan and then Baudelaire got hold of me. (the decadent French poet of the 1890s) After that Arthur Rimbaud, Francis Bacon, Tintin, Quentin Crisp. Dandies are roped together like mountaineers heading to the summit of beauty. I looked into their mirrors and saw myself.
G: And Byron?
S: Well I don't know so much about Byron, but the way he lived his life...
it was so much more important than his work. You see pictures and books are only things but artists are people. And who else? Well, the Sex
Pistols and Johnny Rotten had a huge influence on me when I was about
fifteen and continue to do so in a way.
G: Do you think drugs influence art? It's often said that artists, poets and
composers take shed loads of drugs. Is this a romantic myth?
S: It's not only a romantic myth, it's nonsense. I don't know who's
responsible for it. Me probably. But this is the connection: - The
type of person who creates is often quite sensitive and that's why he
creates for the rest of us. But that sensitivity, if it's not checked, can
lead to your own destruction. It's not that you take drugs and that makes
you creative, it just doesn't work that way, and the idea of creating on
drugs is as preposterous a notion as the idea of driving a car when you're
drunk. I mean the whole point about being an artist is that he's supposed to
be more aware. The point of taking heroin is to make you forget your
leg's just been cut off. So the connection isn't that you take the drugs and
create, the connection is that the sort of person who is drawn to art is
also drawn to drugs. But I’m actually a drug addict with a painting problem if you must know.
G: What do you reckon is the most unusual cocktail of drugs you've ever
S: Are you saying my favourite? Or Unusual?
G: Whatever, when you used to.
S: What, like last night or something? No, I'm off now, but injecting, that
was the thing I really liked. The whole ritual, the way you become a
hermaphrodite - a vampire at your own veins. But my preference was speedballing, which is a combination of heroin and cocaine.
G: Heroin can keep you looking young I'm told.
S: Heroin preserves everything actually, except secrets.
G: When did you clean up and why?
S: You see I am no longer a practising drug addict. I'm perfect. I cleaned
up because I couldn't work. And because it was making me too happy. It's a very simple exchange for me personally. If I drink or take drugs I can't do anything else. I reduce the whole of life’s experience to one experience - the drugs. I have this obsession with freedom but drug taking is like placing yourself in another kind of prison. I will sit in this room, I won't answer the phone and the only people I see are my dealers and my hookers. I can't write, I can't paint and dandyism goes completely out the window. As a drug taker I end up fit only for the undertaker.
G: Do you expect to be revealed through your art or be concealed?
dandyism - give me a mask and I'll tell you the truth, which is curious.
You know a dandy is a liar who tells the truth. Why I get on people's
nerves, particularly the British, is firstly because I've got the airs and
graces of a genius and no talent and secondly because the dandy is just an exaggerated extension of us all. All dress is fancy dress, except our natural skins. And life is nothing but a game of dressing up and pretending. We all perform our lives - just look at doctors and lawyers - they think they're real people. So, in a way, dandyism is the lie that reveals the truth. And the truth is that we are what we pretend to be. I may be a phoney but at least I‘m a real phoney.
S: Someone who brings new meanings into the world. The whole point about
genius is it's very, very rare. Although now the term has gone to confetti. I read the other day that Morrissey is a genius. What does that make Mozart then? Double genius with chips?
G: And today everyone desires celebrity.
S: That's a totally different thing. I used to be a universe, but now I'm
only a star. Celebrity is a comedown, which is the curious thing, not that
I've got it, but the problem is it's a trap, another form of prison. How can you talk about the concept of freedom on the one hand which you willingly give it up with the other? If you are somebody who wants to break through things and find new meanings for yourself, how can you struggle through all these different layers of disapproval, hostility and convention only to arrive at another form of convention? Personally I’d rather be an anonymous star than a famous non-entity.
G: Penultimately Sebastian, what words would you choose to define yourself?
S: I'm a Romantic Nihilist. As Coleridge said, Romanticism is something
ever more about to be. I believe passionately in nothing. Life is utterly
futile, merely a spasm of brutality meaning absolutely nothing. Your life, my life, is utterly and completely pointless. Sorry to break it to you. But rather than making us depressed, it frees us to overact appallingly and bring drama, richness and texture into existence. A man should always be impeccably dressed for the firing squad you know. And give the order himself...
G: And finally... do you like animals at all?
S: Hate them all. I have enough dumb friends without getting a pet. Basically, animals should be delicious and fit well.
Sebastian Horsley, the artist, was recently crucified in the Philippines.
S: I live in terror of being understood. No question. That's part of
H: So what's your definition of a genius?