Sebastian Horsley, artist, writer, drug addict, sex columnist, pimp, prostitute, national treasure. Best described as a modern day Quentin Crisp, a self-proclaimed dandy and the embodiment of decadence, Sebastian lived his life like a character from a novel. This show is a tribute to Sebastian’s life and legacy and a rare opportunity to see some of his cherished keep-sakes, his tailored suits, his top hat, items of inspiration from his desk and his melancholy paintings of sunflowers.
Sebastian was born in Yorkshire in 1962 to an alcoholic millionaire father and a mother continuously off the rails making it safe to say Sebastian didn’t have an easy childhood. As Sebastian grew up he sought comfort in his Idol Mark Bolan, front man and acclaimed dandy of the band T.Rex where he found solace in someone equally intent in living by their own rules and excesses.
Sebastian became a fixed sighting in Soho where he lived in a Georgian flat, a plaque on the door stating “There are no prostitutes here”. He would be spotted in his customary long velvet dress coat, cravat and black velvet top hat, custom made and extra tall, wisely pointing out that “men, once they know they are beautiful, are far more besotted with their looks than women ever are”.
His book, ‘Dandy in the Underworld’ published in 2007 made us take notice. An autobiography on someone not yet famous? He was surprised by its success, stating, “I didn’t see my little book getting out of Britain, Ok England, Ok London, Ok Soho, Ok Meard Street, Ok 7 Meard Street, Ok my flat, Ok my bedroom, Ok my lavatory.” In 2008 when he was visiting the US on a book tour the government banned him from the country on charges of ‘moral turpitude’. A customs official said that "... travelers who have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (which includes controlled-substance violations) or admit to previously having a drug addiction are not admissible..." . After eight hours of questioning, he was placed on a plane and sent back to London. Horsley told the Associated Press that he had prepared for the visit; his one concession: removing his nail polish.
In talking about himself he expresses, “It’s better to be quotable than honest. I don’t speak I quote. I am a fraud. I have cobbled together my personality from hundreds of little bits. I am simultaneously the most genuine and the most artificial person you will ever meet. I am a controversial figure: people either dislike me or hate me.”
Off the record Sebastian ran his home as a brothel. Apparently it was to pay the mortgage or perhaps he just liked to be around things depraved, since he had an uncanny knack of making the worst things appear glorious and romantic.
In his bedroom lived an ornately carved wooden bed, next to it a loaded gun sitting atop an elaborate box. When he went for his last STD test (he contracted syphilis happily declaring “It is unthinkable for a dandy to arrive at middle age without having syphilis. Without it, one simply cannot claim genius.” When the nurse asked him if he had had unprotected sex he assured her, “Never. There is always a gun by my bedside. In his flat lived a set of human bones and shelves filled with books and skulls, not a saucepan or plate in sight, only a mug with the handle broken off saying ‘world’s greatest dad’, unlikely as Sebastian has openly stated in the past that “The worst sexually transmitted disease of them all is children. The only place a dandy would push a pram is into the Thames.”
In 2000 Sebastian travelled to the Philippines to undergo a crucifixion in relation to a series of paintings he was working on. He believed it was important to experience the pain in order to paint it. It could be considered poetic that he fell off the cross due to the foot rest breaking causing him to fall. It was thanks to an onlooker who caught him that prevented the silver nails, shown in the exhibition, from tearing through his hands.
From 1998 to 2004 Sebastian wrote a monthly column in the erotic review going on to in 2006 write a weekly ‘sex advice’ column in the Observer. This was cancelled after only four months after many letters of complaints from readers.
Sebastian was found dead on the 17th June 2010 in his flat from an overdose of cocaine and heroin only days after the play based on his book opened at the Soho theatre”. Sebastian was the real thing, a genuine dandy, charming and humble and impeccably presented, his memory lives on as a sweet and generous man who existed on all accounts as proof of his belief that “kindness is wisdom”.