Shallow Not Stupid

No one goes to an art opening to look at the art, especially when the show is a celebration of decadent artist Sebastian Horsley, who was famously crucified with glitter nails in the Philippines at the start of the millennium.

Being nailed to the cross without opiates is a true vocation — or totes bonkers. Either way, unsaintly Sebastian’s daring act makes Tracey Emin’s condom-soiled bed seem as risky as Auntie Nellie’s on the maid’s day off. You can almost hear Sebastian take a toke from his crack pipe and exhale, “Blow some gas out of your pompous ass, Trace.”

Given that the dress code at the retrospective, The Whoresley Show (Outsider’s Gallery, London, August 9 – September 14, 2013), was Dress Dandy, the crowd was a disappointment. Poor Sebastian must have been reclining on his chaise-longue in hell, with a silk mask shielding his eyes from dirty sneakers and bodies, which could benefit from less beer and more calorie-free debauchery.

I wore the Chinese red silk dress I had on when I met the scarlet goth, who got a slap for touching me inappropriately to verify the authenticity of the fabric. He begged me to slap him again with my small white hand and blood-red fingernails, which perhaps reminded him of his Jesus impression. His crucifixion nails are on display at Outsider’s Gallery, but disappointingly cleaned of blood.

He died in 2010, possibly by his own needle, though Horsley’s friends do not believe he committed suicide — he would have left a note. However, his autobiography, Dandy in the Underworld, is possibly his de facto suicide note. A hilarious and heartbreaking love letter to himself, his story includes incest, love affairs with prostitutes (one of whom was the main beneficiary of his estate), and a perverse relationship with a notorious murderer who reinvented himself as an artist after his release from ‘life’ imprisonment.

Horsley had escaped his wealthy family in the neanderthal north for St Martins art school and lived in London’s Soho for most of his life, with a sign on his front door that read: “This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address.” Though Horsley did write a poem that begins with “I sold my bum in Soho…”

With a life like that, who needs art? Yet Sebastian Horsley’s paintings are almost good. With a bit of hard work, he could have been a first-rate painter, maybe. But he didn’t have time for early nights. His life was his art: the touchingly vulgar suits and hats, and the decadent habits that seem charmingly old-fashioned in a world where people exercise and drink water to excess. As shallow-not-stupid Sebastian said, “My fate lies not in the stars but in a star — myself.”

Death is never far away from glamour for a Soho aesthete. “Soho used to be dirty sex and clean air,” Sebastian once remarked. “Now it’s clean sex and bad air.”

See Vivien Lash play herself in the Spying on Strange Men film