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Leigh Bowery in Fur Coat
, c. 1983 (printed 2005)

by David Gwinnutt

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 40.2 cm x 30.4 cm, image: 38.8 cm x 28.2 cm)

Leigh Bowery (1961-1994), London-based designer and nightclub performer, was born in Sunshine, Victoria, and schooled in Melbourne before briefly studying fashion design. In 1980 he moved to London, where he began selling clothes at Kensington Market. In 1983 he performed at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts; in 1984 he travelled to New York and Japan to show his clothes, and made his first club appearance. 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. Central to London’s fashion and art scenes, Bowery is credited with influencing Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. From 1990 he posed for painter Lucian Freud, exposing his giant body for a number of arresting paintings. Following his death from HIV-related illness in London, he was buried in Australia beside his mother.

David Gwinnutt began recording the club scene in London in the early 1980s, imagining himself as ‘the Cecil Beaton of his generation’. Over the years he ran into Bowery from time to time in clubs such as Heaven and the aptly-named, short-lived Taboo. In this photograph Bowery wears elements of one of his most famous early ‘looks’, ‘Pakis from Outer Space’.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2005
Accession number: 2005.86