Been reading a McQueen biography. I've been an admirer for a long time and his experiences remind me that some things are universal and eternal; I'm going to bang on about them in semibulletpoint form whilst posting a few of my favourite pieces throughout just so it won't be a dead loss.
- Then as now: art school bullshit. The pitting of creative people against one another right from the fucking get-go in a scrabble for the shitty resources and grudging recognition artists are schooled to accept. Inculcated on this fundamental level and virtually impossible to exorcise afterwards. Although Lee was a wee bit of a native arsehole, he (and many like him) might still be with us if he had not been compelled to cannibalise so many relationships in his struggle to do anything material.
Related: the depressing virtual impossibility of being paid a decent wage for a decent day's work as an artist of any kind. We are either flat-out exploited, blithely under-compensated, or paid ridiculous sums to do impossible things for people who expect obscene returns. McQueen was either eating someone else's cold chips in a mangey squat or wallowing in megabank and neither condition does anyone much good for long.
- Isabella Blow might have briefly been the wormhole between worlds that sucked McQueen into the one containing notoriety, but she was also a controlling attention-seeker, dramatic leg-dragger and bottomless psychic vampire who probably did as much harm as good with her toxic nuttiness. We've all met them. She blew through the kind of (entirely undeserved) opportunity that truly capable, productive people would have killed for, and to hear her whine incoherently about her self-inflicted predicament from her husband's historic country house makes me want to stab something with a fucking fork. I don't credit her with much in regard to McQueen's output- he would have done all of that shit anyway- and find the hyperbolic posthumous homage distasteful. Bona fide patronage is important but all these overprivileged do-nothing bitches who want mad props for wearing hats can fuck right off.
- After learning that he was routinely expected to produce ten collections a year by various parties, most of whom were in a much better position than McQueen to know exactly how sisyphean that task would be, I am prompted to dump a shitload of credit in the lap of his production team. Like, 80% of the damn credit. Anyone involved in practical creation knows just how much unglamorous piecemeal drudgery and desperate last-moment expedient genius must have been poured into those frocks by a gifted support crew. So massive claps and flowers to all those nameless techs and interns and cutters etc who were the ribs and femurs of his operative giant.
- McQueen's darkly legendary personal indulgences are an object lesson in the afferent dangers of overdoing shit. Overdoing anything will reverse its polarity; the sustenance it initially provides becomes poisonous and bleeds into everything you're trying so hard to sustain. Too many drugs sounds like an oxymoron while you're huffing booger sugar on an Olympian scale, but it really is bad for you. Fucking too many predatory or indifferent strangers will turn the dial sinister, too, which is a shame because fucking while fucked up can be a merciful escape from one's own shrieking consciousness. All things considered, Lee's nuclear gimptastrophe is a cautionary tale for the ages. The stuff his arsehole went through gives my arsehole the cold sweats, and it too has done... questionable things. Seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. You know what? Never mind.
Which brings me to my next point: Blade Runner, specifically the costume design by Charles Knode and Michael Kaplan. I've never seen any critical mention of the utterly obvious and almost explicit references McQueen made to their work in his own and I can't really be bothered looking, but it sticks out like dog bollocks as far as I'm concerned.
- It's very interesting to me that so many of my age cohort have embraced the destruction of the human exemptionalist paradigm in their métiers. I'm convinced that comes from the thousand televised hours of natural history we were treated to as children and thank fucking christ for it every day of my life. McQueen's abolition and hybridisation of the human form is as much a child of Attenborough's relentless advocacy as his own internal prerogatives. Thanks, David :)
- Re the contemporaneous charge of misogyny (though I see that once-popular stance has given way to universal acclaim now that the poor bugger's dead). I didn't think McQueen was a misogynist back in the day and I'm even less convinced of it now. He admired, befriended, consulted and employed women. In his rejection of feminine aesthetic norms he both empathised with the ferocity of our desire to kick away the deadweight of tradition and dared to express the darker ghost of that aspiration; the self loathing and masochism of victimhood, into which he had been initiated courtesy of the sexual abuse he experienced as a child. In his sexuality he was formatively monstered and discounted- just like we are. McQueen knew what it was like to have to eat shit and shut up and smile like a good girl.
His work and its performance expressed all that angst, contempt, violence, fragility, sarcasm and hypocrisy alongside celebratory grandeur and this is not anitfemale- it is honest. Like it or not, women are still deformed by the weight of all those oppressive millennia. I personally find the work most derided in Eshu and La Poupée incredibly valuable in its vicious, unapologetic bulldozing of traditional notions of beauty and believe that is precisely why people were so fucking determined to characterise it as derogatory. They were mad at his pissing all over pretty, as though this sick convention was the most precious thing imaginable. As a woman, I feel the gross confines of pretty like a plastic bag around my head and take solace in living outside it, in solidarity with other creatures, in our rhythmic affinity with the organic world. McQueen celebrated this in virtually everything he produced.
To me it seems obvious that his own wish to escape the physical cards he had been dealt was utterly and perversely seminal to his aesthetic. McQueen yearned with the diametric vehemence of the incorrigible self-loather to be everything his body was not- thin, athletic, ethereal, elongate- subjecting himself to the kind of excoriations only too familiar to women for far too long. That he could not apply his boundless talents to celebrating personal diversity, to the very things he lamented about himself is hardly surprising and ultimately pretty forgivable.
It is painfully ironic to consider the sort of compassionate, comprehensive self-acceptance that can come to those of us who make it into our forties, knowing it will forever be denied to the people who did not survive its absence.
How powerful that realisation might have been to someone like Lee Alexander McQueen. RIP.