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Leigh Bowery

1961 – 1994

Leigh Bowery (1961-1994), London-based designer and nightclub performer, was born in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, and attended school in Melbourne before briefly studying fashion design at RMIT. In 1980 he moved to London, where he worked in Burger King by night and sold clothes at Kensington Market. In 1983 he performed at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts; the following year, he travelled to New York and Japan to show his clothes. He first performed at a club in 1984; in 1985 he opened the aptly named club, Taboo, in Leicester Square. Through the rest of the 1980s and the early 1990s his performances, both alone and in aggregations such as the Quality Street Wrappers, Raw Sewage and Minty, became increasingly extravagant, obscene and subversive. Closely involved with London's fashion and art scenes, Bowery was credited with influencing Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. Between 1988 and 1994 his ever-changing appearance was tracked in portraits by photographer Fergus Greer. From 1990 he posed for Lucian Freud, exposing his giant body unadorned for a number of memorable paintings. Following his death from HIV-related illness in London, he was buried in Australia alongside his mother. The caption accompanying Bowery's portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London describes him as an 'Australian performance artist'. He has been the subject of several books and a long article in The New Yorker. Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art mounted the world's largest survey exhibition of his work, Take a Bowery: The Art and (larger than life) Life of Leigh Bowery in 2003-4.

Updated 2018