BE YOURSELF, EVERYONE ELSE IS ALREADY TAKEN
– Daniel Lismore
It all started when I was very young, growing up with my parents who were antique dealers. They’d bring home all these beautiful pieces, and I used to play using the antiques and my Star Trek action figures. Then I started to sculpt my favourite celebrities out of clay in art class, and I became interested in clothing. I learned about Pop Art and how Warhol was obsessed with fame and celebrity. I learned how Dali put dreams into his work – I would absorb all of that, and then I studied photography. I became obsessed with the work of David Lachapelle and Steven Arnold. They inspired me to think outside the box, and that propelled me into the world of fashion. I would start to adorn myself and place myself in everyday life wearing all these intricately created homemade pieces, and the juxtaposition of my creations with humdrum daily happenings sparked something in me.
It might sound funny, but I sort of found myself in the fashion world, and then I discovered London’s nightlife scenes. I went more and more extreme with my dressing and that’s when it really became art, using all these ingredients that I’d picked up along the way. Nightlife back then was this incredible world of creativity. In the nighttime you could be whoever or whatever you wanted to be. When I first moved to London, I was 17 and starting out as a model. I’d go to castings with rips torn in the crotches of my jeans or holes torn in my t-shirts so my nipples would show. But back then – even now – male models are expected to be straight masculine. My agency told me I would have to tone myself down if I wanted to be successful. So, for a while I went to my castings dressed less controversially and the nighttime was my space for expression. I’d mix haute couture with charity-shop finds, ethnic jewellery, vintage accessories, yards of fabric, found objects, chainmail, shells, feathers, and random retro curios.
Over the years some of my biggest idols gave me items of clothing and such; people like Adam Ant, Boy George, Lee McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Steve Strange. I have creations that incorporate pieces from the Queen of Thailand, Indian paintings and embroidery, Maasai tribal pieces, hand-painted silks. There’s a $100,000 crystal dress, a coat that Nikki Minaj wore in her Freedom video, a 2,000-year-old necklace from China, there’s Couture, and there’s Primark – whatever inspires me – and I build like an architect over my body using color, texture, and shape. Everything is structured so it will not fall off unless I turn upside down. It’s all built around my posture which is usually upright and I often wear hot, uncomfortable, heavy pieces that I never really think about once they’re on. It’s the body as canvas and everyday I create an image on the canvas using whatever materials I love and things that mean something sentimental to me that I’ve collected from around the world. Then you present it in public – from the streets to private events – and you let people think whatever the hell they like. Then once my artwork and the pieces I’ve worn have been used to death, or broken, or been ripped up, I reuse them. And once they’ve really had their life with me, they no longer belong to me; they go on display in museums around the world. They’re added to a collection of an army of life-sized versions of me. They are 3D tapestries of my life as art but in sculpture. They are all made the way I would have worn them using safety pins and materials that I’ve used myself.
The psychology aspect of it is fascinating to me. I do it because I love it and I love life. I never asked for reactions and sometimes I wish there were none and the world would accept everyone how they are, but that very rarely happens. And the world’s changed a few times. Ten years ago, the clubs and such started to close down. A lot were transformed into shopping malls and residential buildings, and the government kind of killed the vibrancy of the scene. I still did my art, but for a few years I felt like a lone ranger flying the flag for the freaks. But there’s been a revival since. And the constraints of society on expression of identity are constantly progressing even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. In a way, that progress reduces the need for the safe underground spaces, like the clubs, which is sad. But I guess it’s a good thing. I recently started a club night in Soho to bring something back. And we all still need our communities.
When Rizzoli approached me about a book, I took the title from a quote sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde – “Always be yourself – everyone else is already taken.” And that’s the message – you can always be yourself. You might have to work for it, and there will always be struggles, there will always be someone who wants to tear you down, but you can do what you want to do, and be who you want to be. I hope my work can inspire individuals all over the world. I feel that it has, because of the reactions I get every day and the messages of positivity. There are negative reactions too, but they’re also important, because at least people are learning something new. Becoming art isn’t easy, and it comes with ups and downs, but hopefully I can inspire people however they would like to be inspired. And if I don’t that’s fine too. My main goal is to be able to help people with the small voice I have, and the connections I’ve made all over the world at all levels of mentality and social hierarchy. I’m an activist and I do my best, which is all anyone can do.
Daniel Lismore is a London-based artist, creative consultant, celebrity stylist, writer, and activist. His book, ‘Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken’ is published by Rizzoli. His exhibition is currently on tour.
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