Portrait of Warhol with Blue Eyed Skull

Acrylic ink on printed paper
23 x 28 cms
1997

A page torn from an Andy Warhol catalogue originally showing Warhol’s 'Self Portrait With Hands Around the Neck' and 'Self Portrait with Skull’, altered by the Artist by painting over the image in various colours.

Essays

  • Masks or How To Be A Dandy - Sebastian Horsley SHOW

    Masks or How To Be A Dandy - Sebastian Horsley

    Dandyism is a form of self-worship which dispenses with the need to find happiness from others - especially women. It is a condition rather than a profession. It is a defence against suffering and a celebration of life. It is not fashion; it is not wealth; it is not learning; it is not beauty. It is a shield and a sword and a crown - all pulled out of the dressing up box in the attic of the imagination.

    The estrangement of the thorough going dandy is not from women, but from life. It is taking up a posture of ironic detachment from the world and living it out in scrupulous detail. Dandies are a brotherhood of higher types. The true princes of the world. And the true priests of the world. To become a dandy your days will become so ordered they will make the life of a Trappist monk seem like an orgy.

    Here are the lessons in self-transformations I apply so rigourously. You must empty yourself of the dreariness of mere personality, and make yourself available without reservation, not to individuals but to the world at large. But you will find

    that this way of life is only in a certain sense fulfilling. It is also a martyrdom of sorts. If you choose to share your life with the world rather than one person then you have to forfeit marriage, children, happiness - all the things, of course, that don’t matter. So, how exactly is it done? It is time to take off my face and reveal my mask.

    The projection of dandyism can be effected by three principal means - speech, movement and appearance.

    Speech.

    Unless you can improve on silence - keep your gob shut. To justify its existence speech has to be extraordinary. If it’s ordinary it’s less than worthless ; it’s clutter. If language is the dress of thought then there is never any excuse for denim.

    Read every day something no-one else is reading. Think every day something no-one else is thinking. Above all be witty. Wit enables us to act rudely with impunity. And wit has truth in it.

    Remember : The beginning of wit is to desire it. Read wit continually, exercise the mind, simply to keep the muscles at attention,

    like a person who tries to do a marathon. Turn your pain into humour and your anger into wit. Embrace life as a great metaphysical joke to which the only logical response is laughter.

    The key is to make people believe everything you say, though not a single word is sincere. The only terror is the terror of being understood.

    Movement.

    If all speech should be a kind of literature, every movement should be a form of dance. Every day put on your best trousers to go out to battle for freedom and truth. One must always look beautiful, look up and smile at the camera - even if it’s only a security camera - or a satellite. Contra Mr Orwell : be grateful to be worth watching. Curl your skip into a smile and your smile into a show. Your gait, should be a purposeful lope, taut with authority. Walk in the perfect glow of self adoration, striding invincibly through London's awe-struck and fawning populace.

    Clothes.

    When it comes to dress, it takes a strong man to be an extrovert. A true dandy, needs a complete conviction

    that he is right; the views of the rest of the world simply don’t matter. “If someone looks at you, you are not well-dressed“ Mr Brummell tells us. But then Mr Brummell would say that: prissily precise, he was essentially a conformist. True dandyism is rebellious. The real dandy wants to make people look, be shocked by, and even a little scared by the subversion which his clothes stand for.

    And yet, dandyism is social, human and intellectual. It is not a suit of clothes walking about by itself. Clothes are merely a part - they may even be the least important part of the personality of the dandy. Dandyism isn’t image encrusted with flourishes. It’s a way of stripping yourself down to your true self. You can only judge the style by the content and you can only reach the content through the style.

    Mr Brummell was the original and most celebrated dandy but he was no hero of mine. He was so refined that I do not regard him as a dandy at all. I am more concerned with style than breeding. And the key is to dress in such a style

    that you would attract attention at a Liberace concert.

    Being “well dressed” is not a question of having expensive clothes or the “right” clothes. You can wear rags, but they must suit you. In fact to be able to sustain an existence on nothing and rags is the epitome of style. A curious dignity and a refusal not to keep up appearances is what we want. Style is not elegance but consistency. So, take heart, you will not need any money at all. A modest sufficiency cramps style; extreme poverty, like great danger, enriches it.

    Remember : Life is nothing but a game of dressing up and make-believe. All dress is fancy dress except our natural skins.

    Occupation.

    Works of art do nothing but they do it passionately. So, retire at birth. You must have no obligations, no attachments, no wife, no child, no occupation, no possessions, no obvious means of support, visible or invisible. Basically no use whatsoever. Are we agreed about that? Good. Looking beautiful and being stylish is essential. A purpose in life is not. I have never had a career - but I do

    a splendid job as one of the handsomest men in the world. I don’t want anything. I am completely un covetous. Unless it is under the covers avec tous.

    Family life.

    As a natural loner and auto-invention you will have grasped early the irrelevance of family life. Dandies reproduce themselves through emulation and style, not through family descent. So, get rid of them. Distant relatives, are the best kind, and the further the better.

    Love, marriage and sex represent species sameness and so the defeat of individuality. And so, they gotta go. A dandy will not be link in the chain of being, exchangeable with any other and expendable in himself. They are not a piece of animated meat. A fornicating carcass. He must defeat his animal function at all costs.

    The only place a dandy would push a pram is into the Thames. Of course, it is fine to date children but never to have them. You must raise nothing but your cock.

    As for women? Women are on this planet only as trumpets of our glory. To love, even in the least elevated sense, means to desire,

    which means to be dependent. The key is to be disinterested and not become giddy from the heads you turn.

    Life trajectory.

    Dandyism oscillates between narcissism and neurosis, vanity and insanity, Savile Row and Death Row. All the great dandies have ended in the flophouse or the madhouse. Gutter or nutter. You have lived like a king and shall die like a beggar.

    Death

    As all self-respecting dandies know, suicides are the aristocrats of death. They represent a triumph of style over life. Your existence is a work of art. It deserves a frame - if only to distinguish it from the wallpaper. Suicide will look nice. It will match the home furnishings.

    Write a note. If you are young perhaps something like :

    “I have decided to stop living on account of the cost”
    Or if you are old (say 90)
    “I am committing suicide because I am worried about my future.”

    Remember : It is not enough to know how to make a dazzling entry : you need to know how to vacate the stage with the same panache. Dandyism is a modern

    form of stoicism. It is a religion whose only sacrament is suicide. Fear not : by the time you have reached the end of the run you will be as God. You will not be committing suicide but deicide. Pesticide is for mere mortals.

    ******

    From Savile Row to Death Row. Of course Dandyism fails. How can originality replicate to create a whole movement? How, on the one perfumed hand, can you talk about freedom when you willingly give it up with the other un-gloved mitt? How can you be unique and yet part of the gang? There are two universal truths about human beings. One : they are all the same. Two : they all say they are different. Two is of course the result of one. The dandy just happens to be the biggest, the best and most beautiful fraud of them all. His doctrine is a laughable conceit, a delightful illusion.

    But so what? Life is absurd and so the only way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in a perpetual orgy of absurdity. A man gets up to speak and says nothing. Nobody listens and then everybody disagrees. Nothing

    solves the meaningless absurdity of life. But we can clothe the abyss and make it wearable.

    When you hear thunder, take a bow.
    When you hear rain, assume it is applause.
    And so like the sun, shine, having no alternative.

    You shall be a reprobate dandy; that’s your job. And the good lord will forgive you : That’s his.