Crucifixion of Brit artist in PH on show in London
LONDON - The infamous crucifixion of British artist Sebastian Horsley, who came to the Philippines to perform the act, has been revived at a retrospective of his life at The Outsiders gallery in London, over a decade since making headlines around the world.
Affectionately called “The Whoresley Show,” a moniker inspired by his well-documented affinity to prostitutes in his beloved Soho neighborhood, it features a selection of paintings, photographs, and personal items amassed throughout his colorful and controversial life.
“We just wanted to give him back his artistic legacy, which I think has been lacking. He is recognized for his clothes and the headlines but not actually as an artist, and we thought we’d give that back to him,” said Marine Tanguy, a curator from the gallery.
Best known as a dandy and hedonist, the show reflects the artist’s fascination with the macabre with a stunning personal collection of skulls, as well as a series of paintings, “The Flowers of Evil,” that tread between beauty and decay.
His irrepressible lust for life and experiences also dictated much of his work and personal possessions at the show, from his immersion in the sex trade which featured in many of his writings, to the pursuit of extreme pain through crucifixion which punctuates the collection.
“Sebastian was just one of those people who think ‘I could do everything.’ It doesn’t matter if it involves sex or death, he would actually go through everything. And crucifixion, I think he thought, ‘I cannot paint a crucifixion painting without exploring it, without understanding fully what it involved,’” Tanguy explained.
“It’s not normally something someone would think of doing. [Horsley] would just go through an endless sensation of pain, art and creation. He thinks life comes before art. And you can’t be an artist unless you’ve lived enough. You can’t create something that hasn’t been lived.”
Horsley was nailed to the cross in the Philippines in 2000, part of a long standing tradition on Good Friday in northern parts of Luzon which aims to reenact the crucifixion of Jesus.
Yet despite strong indignation from the Catholic Church, the ritual continues year after year and is now flocked by droves of tourists eager to witness what is arguably the most literal expression of faith and commemoration.
Horsley’s own painful experience resulted in a series of paintings aptly called “Crucifixion,” a foreboding representation of the cross that seem to carry a heaviness in its composition and color palette weighted by its inescapable context.
Together with these paintings, the exhibit features two large silver nails used in the artist’s crucifixion, as well as a video of the event propelled by an eerie soundtrack. And though it has been several years since it caused shock and awe across the world, it seems its impact on viewers remain as potent as ever.
“From the culture he’s come from it’s a little unusual. Crucifixion is a little extreme,” observed Dennis McGuire, a retired telecoms professional who visited the show.
“I was interested in the crucifixion theme, partly because it took me back, I was brought up as a Catholic, and in the school I went to as a young boy, in almost every room there was always looming figures of the crucified Christ peering down at you in dark and dusty corners.”
Horsley passed away in 2010, and this retrospective aims to help secure his legacy at the third anniversary of his death. And, given the media and public interest on this show, his self-induced mythology may just survive through his perpetual crucifixion in art.
The Whoresley Show is at The Outsiders in Greek Street, London until September 14.