Something I should mention is the trinity of Vivienne Westwood, Leigh Bowery and Derek Jarman. They’re the three icons of how, you know, when you’re an impressionable teenager, and you’re looking for principals to go on in your life?
In the late ‘70s Richard Torry attended Middlesex Polytechnic, drawn to London by his love of punk. Whilst he was still studying, Malcolm McLaren spotted Torry on the street and asked him to audition for his new group Bow Wow Wow. Torry auditioned twice, but was not chosen, though he did ask to meet Vivienne Westwood. Westwood accepted and came to his studio flat in Stoke Newington and subsequently hired him. She became one of the quintessential driving influences in his life, and the first icon in his mimetic trinity.
In my brain they’re three mimetic icons – three different ways of approaching things. Vivienne was a cultural catalyst at the time, for pop culture, but there was a leap of faith in everything, a religious element that required a leap of faith or, ‘leave your head in the car park moment’.
Torry met Derek Jarman on the club scene in London, in the early ‘80s and they became firm friends. In mutual admiration, Jarman helped Torry to find the backing to start his own label, introducing him to a business manager and the label ‘Richard Torry’ came to life. Torry recorded a series of conversations with Jarman from 1979 – 1980 that are diffused in the space during the exhibition.
...with Derek, there was no gap in his logic I found. Between his explanation, his actions and his art. There wasn’t a chink. You said this, you were doing that. While with Vivienne there was.
Torry left Westwood in 1981 to focus on his own label, ‘Richard Torry’ and was taken to New York by Susanne Bartsch for her legendary show ‘New London in New York’ alongside the hottest young talents in London. This trip to New York introduced him to Leigh Bowery, who would become a firm friend and collaborator. His label was subsequently backed by Hanae Mori in 1985 and saw Torry dividing his time between London and Tokyo. In 1986 he was one of the original members of The House Of Beauty & Culture founded by John Moore; with Judy Blame, Dave Baby, Frick & Frack and Christopher Nemeth in Dalston, East London. HOBAC has now reached legendary status and is rumoured to have inspired the young Martin Margiela to deconstruct garments and create his namesake label, whilst Gregor Muir, Director of International Collections at the Tate, claims that HOBAC was an iconic example of ‘salvage culture’ foreshadowing the work of the YBAs, providing the missing link between Tony Cragg and Richard Long in British art.
In 1991, Torry turned his focus to his true passion, music, forming the group “Un homme et Une Femme” with Louise Prey after she heard his mixtapes in his studio - even though he couldn’t really play any instruments. The band split after Clive Black, head of A&R at EMI, wanted to sign only Prey, saying that Torry was holding her back by being too arty. Torry called on Leigh Bowery with the stated ambition of forming the ultimate art-band and hence the ultimate art- band was born in 1992 – Minty.
...with all of this talk of postmodernism being the destroyer of the foundation of the society - which I don’t think is true – Leigh was the one who went for the fault lines. I always think he identified where two ideas create electricity because there’s a clash in the two ideas, and he could revel in that disconnect.
Minty’s last show with Bowery was at the Freedom Café in 1994, drawing a crowd that included Lucian Freud and Alexander McQueen. After Leigh Bowery’s untimely AIDS-related death soon after, Minty’s first single ‘Useless Man’ came out and was a big hit in Europe. Glamorre, Torry and Neil Kaczor formed the music and performance art collective The OffSet which performed at London’s ICA (Insitute of Contemporary Art) in 1996 whilst Minty expanded with Nicola Bowery officially joining to front the band with Glamorre. Minty released their album ‘Open Wide’ to critical acclaim in 1997.
Since the early ‘00s Torry has collaborated with artist Rckay (LR), on several genre-defying projects including The Paper People, Mad Energy club, and his current art-band Winnie the Poof. He continues to blur the boundaries between performance, music, art and culture and can be seen as a catalyst in London’s artistic underground since the late ‘70s to present day, knitting together the relationships between otherwise disparate characters seamlessly.
The title of the show “IF YOU WANT TO VISIT YOU’RE WELCOME, BUT YOU WILL BE EXPECTED TO HELP WITH THE WORK” is taken from a sign that Torry fixed to the door of his studio in the ‘80s. His central London location became a melting pot of creative expression.
“I don’t know if I was a centrifugal force, but, living so Central meant that many people have always popped round and very often my apartment has felt like a hub of exciting ideas.”
Goswell Road shows, for the first time, a series of Consequences drawings made with Leigh Bowery and others between ’87 and ’94 using the surrealist exquisite corpse technique and premiers the brand new Minty video for ‘Useless Man’ by Torry and Glamorre.
All quotes come from a series of interrogations between Torry and the artist Rckay (LR) taken from the book that is published to accompany the show.