Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sebastian Horsley

SB just loves eccentric characters. Sebastian Horsley is certainly one. He once had himself crucified in the name of art. It didn't go very well (he sort of fell off the cross). But still, you've got to love the intention.

Here is an interview he gave about his interesting family. I really enjoyed reading it. Highly recommended for entertainment value alone.

From The Sunday Times

September 9, 2007

Relative Values: Sebastian Horsley and his mother, Valerie

Sebastian Horsley, 45, is an artist and writer whose memoir, Dandy in the Underworld: An Unauthorised Autobiography, was published on Thursday. It coincides with a retrospective of his work, Hookers, Dealers, Tailors, which is running at Spectrum London, 77 Great Titchfield Street, W1, until September 30. Sebastian lives alone in Soho. His late father, Nicholas Horsley, founded the food-manufacturing company Northern Foods. He has a sister, Ashley, 46, a psychotherapist, and a brother, Jake, 40, a writer. His mother, Valerie Walmsley-Hunter, is 73 and lives alone in north London.

Interviews by Ria Higgins

Sebastian: When Mother found out she was pregnant with me, she took an overdose. It didn't work. Neither did nine months of heavy drinking. Had she known I was going to turn out the way I did, I'm sure she'd have gone the whole hog and found the cyanide. Of course, I didn't find that out until much later. We were led to believe it was my sister she'd tried to terminate. She thought I was too touchy to hear such truths. And she's right. I'm a tad sensitive — I feel overlooked if an epidemic misses me out.

Father was wealthy, so we grew up in an enormous house. My first memories of Mother couldn't be more vivid. If you were standing in the drive and saw this technicolour explosion out the corner of your eye, it was either a fruit cart or Mother. She'd pick us up from school in a hat that looked like an exotic bird had just landed on her head. And she'd think nothing of combining it with long, cerise velvet gloves and an ostrich-feather boa.

On sports day Father would turn up in the Jaguar and Mother in a skirt so tight it looked like she had more legs than a bucket of chicken. She wallowed in vanity; I wallowed in embarrassment. Then there were her more informal dress occasions. Taking us to school when we'd missed the bus was one. She would get out her open-top blue Triumph and drive us in wearing a silk negligee and a fur coat, hair so dishevelled you weren't sure it was her.

But really Mother oscillated between two extremes. She was an intoxicating cocktail of glamour and suffering. If she looked like an opera diva one day, you'd mistake her for a bag lady the next. She lived on a diet of booze and pills, and as a result spent huge amounts of her time in bed. She had as much chance of bringing structure and discipline into our lives as of growing orchids in the Moroccan desert. Motherhood wasn't her thing.

The situation with Father didn't help. I have no recollection of a time when she was happy with him. She was only 24 when they got married, and hardly knew him. When they turned up at the registry office, a local journalist asked her if she and her new husband were compatible and she replied: ”I have no idea. I've only known him a week.” As a child, all I remember are the fights and misdemeanours — burning his stuff, crashing the car, shoplifting from his shops. Then there were her visits to the ”bin” when the drinking got really bad.

Father was no better. He was also an alcoholic — and a womaniser. He died from alcohol a few years ago. He also suffered from a spastic condition that eventually left him in a wheelchair.

By that time, though, they'd divorced, and I hadn't spoken to him for years.

He didn't give a toss about me. And I hated him. But I hated Stepfather even more. He was a tosspot. I'd come home to find him in bed with Mother, and Father in bed with someone else. Clearly everyone in my life who should have been vertical was horizontal.

Anyhow, although we called him Stepfather, Mother never married him, and when he died I was pleased to learn Mother had got up one morning and rather than sprinkling his ashes in the Ganges, she'd sprinkled them on her porridge. Revenge? Amusement? I'm not sure. Knowing about her own family I can sympathise with her moments of madness. Her father, nicknamed Jack the Bolter, did a runner before she was born. And her mother suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide.

When I reached my twenties I went through a phase of not wanting to see my family. I wanted to create my own world, which, as it turned out, was equally mad. I realise now that my childhood was probably the happiest time of my life — which gives you an indication of the hell I've endured since. The funny thing is, life is really no different now than when I was seven — I'm back to sitting in a darkened room, making and breaking things.

Mother lives on her own now. She's a bit like a boat without a rudder: she's been blown around all her life — by family, by the breath of other men. She may not have been a good mother, but that's not a criticism, it's an accolade. She's been more like a muse, a co-conspirator. And underneath all her vanity, insanity and green silk dresses is a compassionate, poetic soul. Without her influence, both good and definitely bad, I'd never have become the artist and writer I am today.

Valerie: I was not a great mother to Sebastian. I'm not being hard on myself, or even revelling in guilt, it's just true. They say lovers don't make good parents, and my husband and I were besotted with each other. We'd only known each other 13 days when we got married. But not only were we both young, we were heavy drinkers.

I don't think Nicholas ever went to bed sober and I was always in a fog. Sebastian and my other two children were accidents and, though it seems shocking to admit, I drank all the way through my pregnancies. Fortunately, Nicholas's family were wealthy, so we lived in a huge house. It had endless rooms, endless places for children to hide — which meant I didn't have a clue what they were up to half the time.

Sebastian was mischievous. Once, he set fire to his sister's doll's pram. Then wheeled it next to our oil tank. His sister came screaming in to tell me. I rushed down to find him standing there waiting to see the action unfold. Another time, fire engines came roaring through our village to put out a haystack ablaze in a field. The whole place could've gone up. Only later did I find out Sebastian had started it.

I tried not to be drunk when the kids came home from school, but ultimately I just wasn't good at coping and the drink was a form of escapism. I ended up in the bin on more than one occasion and, in the end, my marriage broke down. Sadly, Sebastian's relationship with his father had never been good. He'd always made Sebastian feel inadequate and stupid, which he wasn't — he got a place to study English at Edinburgh University. But he never forgave him. His father died a few years ago of alcoholism and Sebastian refused to go to the funeral.

Sebastian opted out of university in the end because he met Jimmy Boyle. Jimmy was regarded as Scotland's most violent gangster. He was just out of prison and had found a new calling as an artist. Sebastian was fascinated by him and found out he was setting up an arts centre for ex-prisoners and addicts. He offered to help and Jimmy took him on. The two of them became very close. Jimmy was like a substitute father. He was even best man at Sebastian's wedding.

I didn't hear about Sebastian's marriage to Evlynn until afterwards. That's just the way he is. I was also in the dark about his addictions. Initially it was drink, which I understood because of my own problem. But then he switched to drugs. By this time he'd moved back to London and broken up with Evlynn.

She was great — it was tragic when she died of an aneurysm a few years later. But by then Sebastian was addicted to heroin. I only found out when he was so ill he had to go into care. I freaked out. Luckily he pulled through.

Sebastian can come across as extrovert — the way he dresses, talks, his smile, his wit. He has always been able to make me laugh. But then there's a part of him that runs very deep. He's sensitive, emotional, easily hurt. I think that's why he keeps a distance from his family. Being too close makes him feel vulnerable. And yet it's his sensibilities that make him so creative, whether it's through his painting or writing or any other means of expression he can find.

He can also be unforgiving, vengeful even. Once, when a woman offended him, he went to Tiffany's, got one of their beautiful boxes, put one of his turds in it and sent it to her. Let's just say he has his bad days, and it's times like that when he'll say: 'Why did you give birth to me? That's the worst thing you ever did.” I always have to say to him: ”Sebastian! You couldn't wait to be born. I barely got to the hospital when you came out like a shooting star.” And that's what he's been like ever since. The only difference is he couldn't possibly share his universe.

He'd insist on finding his very own.


Ms. Moon said...

Well, I've always said that if you want your children to be incredibly creative artists, fuck 'em up as much as possible. This proves my point.
Quite interesting.

afk4life said...

Very interesting post, I'll have to do some research on this character, thanks!