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The Final Dandy: Remembering Sebastian Horsley

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Not looking the part at all, I rocked up in Hackney on a Saturday afternoon to enter a very good looking party indeed. It was a celebration of the life and art of Sebastian Horsley, who died on June 17 2010 just after the opening of a one-man play, Dandy in the Underworld, written and directed by Tim Fountain opened at the Soho Theatre in London (so called after the autobiography of the same title).

However identifying the life and art of Horsley, as though they were two separate things, is altogether a misunderstanding.

Though many of his notable acts, such as being the first Westerner in 2000 to volunteer for a crucifixion in a Philippines rebirth ceremony (without pain killers I hasten to add - and he lasted 20 minutes!), were considered research towards future exhibitions (this one the 2002 crucifixion exhibition), Horsley did also say that his paintings must stand alone.

That the crucifixion itself was such a spectacle only represents the extraordinary life of the artist - that must exist outside of the art that resulted.

The son of the Northern Foods magnate Nicholas Horsley and Valerie Walmsley-Hunter, he was born in Hull to a life he describes as being so horrific it stopped him from speaking for his first two years.

Both parents had drink problems and much of Horsley's art, he claimed, revolved around how dysfunctional his early background had been.

Being shoved out of the family fortune, he is said to have 'hit rock bottom' before enjoying a lucrative period in eighties on stock market.

In his autobiography, he claimed that he had enough to live on for the rest of his life provided he died at 4.00pm that afternoon. To understand where all his money went, he told The Panel, an Irish talk show, that he didn't actually spend 90% of his money on prostitutes and 10% of it on class A drugs, but had, rather, invested it there.

Shaped both by punk's bad attitude and Marc Bolan's arrogant cool, Horsley has been described by John Robb as a "cyber Oscar Wilde." But the crude and the grotesque were all parts of Horsley's life, too. He once admitted that if there was a halfway attractive female, he would normally try and seduce them, "less out of lechery than out of what he considered common courtesy".

Will Self, a friend of Horsley's (one who happened to receive the infamous postcard sent to 40 of Sebastian's friends bearing the image of him about to engage in penetrative sex with a legless, armless woman) noted that when he first met him in the eighties 'he was living in Mayfair in order - or so he maintained - to be near to the prostitutes.'

He made light of living to extremes. In his final article for The Chap magazine, published only days before his death, professed that "The only real power you have in this life is over your own body, so why not drink and drug it to death?"

Indeed this is what he did. Though the Westminster Coroner looking at Horsley, Dr Paul Knapman, had the final say, deciding that Sebastian was "the author of his own misfortune", Horsley's obsession with death did leave open the question for many.

Tim Fountain, who authored the play about Sebastian's life, told the journalist and mutual friend Toby Young 'Sebastian would not have passed up the opportunity to write a note.' But Sebastian had written a note; in fact his autobiography has been described as a "suicide aphorism".

When John Robb was writing about the man he used to know, he pointed out that Horsley "tried to be a mean cat, but was actually quite lovable".

Horsley's front, or what Will Self has described as his attitudinising, obviously drew the crowds in. And it did so in droves.

But during the party I attended - where women clothed as tightly as the rooms were in Horsley's Soho flat served champagne and Hendricks gin in thin plastic vessels - a reading took place from the autobiography, during which time there was total silence. The room listened to the musings of a man with great wit, who had a hidden exterior and who was clearly popular for more than just being a source of shock and awe.