Tuesday 15 March 2022

Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken - Daniel Lismore

'Picture yourself in a giant jewellery box with all the beautiful things that you have ever seen in your life. Then imagine that your body is a canvas, and on that canvas you have a mission to create a masterpiece using the content of your giant jewellery box. Once you're created your masterpiece you might think 'Wow, I created that, this is who I am today'. Then you would pick up your house keys, walk out the door into the real world, maybe take public transport into the centre of your town. Possibly walk along the streets or even go shopping. Well, that's my life every day. When I walk out the door these artworks are me. I am art'.

Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken - Daniel Lismore, 

at the Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry.

Daniel Lismore, artist, designer and activist, was born in Coventry. This is the first time that his work has been displayed in the UK and marks his 20th year as a living sculpture.

The exhibition features life-sized figurative sculptures crafted like tapestries, and all have been worn by the artist. To create the sculptures, Lismore combines his own works of art, haute couture and items from his personal collection of nearly 7,000 unique pieces, including jewellery, vintage fabrics and found objects.

The exhibition examines social, historical and cultural themes central to Lismore's work and life as a living sculpture. He is an advocate of sustainable fashion, a design philosophy that espouses creative re-use, upcycling of materials and reduction of impact on the environment. His relationships with creative communities around the world inform his work and activism.

He has exhibited around the world, designed costumes for the English National Opera and has been described by Vogue as 'England's most eccentric dresser'. He was Creative Director of designer brand Sorapol where he dressed Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Naomi Campbell and Cara Delevingue, and worked with Adam Ant and Boy George among others. Many of the pieces designed for his celebrity clientele have become part of Lismore's artworks.

The exhibition explores and celebrates Lismore's journey from being raised in Coventry through to international fame. 

The sequence of galleries in this post is the sequence we were guided through, which is not necessarily a chronological one.

Outside the main galleries:

Lismonian Aliens, 2017, (3D printed recycled plastic sculpture)

Emperor, 2016, (assorted crowns, lobster headpiece by Mark Nesmith, amethyst necklace once worn by Lindsay Lohan, Alexander McQueen top, Dr Noki fabric, ceremonial knife replica (Tumi), embroidered chasubles, Thai brass bells and prayer flowers, steel gauntlet and helmet, Sorapol couture Marie Antoinette-inspired ostrich feather dress)


Dominating the stairs

looking closer

Gallery 1:

In this gallery there is a cornucopia of materials including photos, found objects, ephemera, artworks, sketchbooks and personal material documenting Lismore's journey from childhood to his true self living as a sculpture - most of them previously unseen. 

Gallery 4:

Colour, texture and shape play an important role in the creation of Damiel Lismore's living sculptures. Rather than working to a theme, Lismore is greatly drawn in and influenced by what he sees. He gathers objects and materials from all over the world, instinctively working with their form to design his sculptures. His only rule is that 'there's no such thing as too much. More is always more'.

Lismore fuses his expertise in haute couture and fashion with a motivation to be creative with whatever medium or material he can find. His concept is to use the body as a canvas and advocate the right to be truly authentic.

Set against a vibrant, neon-coloured backdrop, this space presents a selection of Lismore's monochromatic sculptures. The faces looking out from them are casts of Lismore's own face, each hand-painted to match his striking makeup palette. Through his sculptures, he invites us to think about personal identity and the expression of individual style and taste.

looking closer


detail - Charles and Diana wedding t-shirt

another wedding dress

detail - a picture of Lenin

Gallery 5:

Lismore's practice is rooted in political and social action, from advocating sustainable fashion to campaigning for climate change and LGBT rights. He brings together his activism and artistic practice to create work that incites, disrupts and inspires. He describes getting dressed as 'suiting up to go out and face the world, to change the world'.

He's an ambassador of Cool Earth, a climate-change charity that repopulates rainforest trees, fights deforestation and provides financial assistance and resources to the communities who live there. He was the face of H&M's Close the Loop campaign to encourage recycling of clothes and has worked closely with Vivienne Westwood on her climate revolution projects, notably to stop fracking in the UK. He also undertakes voluntary work for charity New World International in Kenya to improve living conditions for communities. In 2021 he worked for Greenpeace on their summer campaign against destructive fishing around the UK.

He offers his support to human rights issues and journalistic freedom movements. He supports LGBT people who live in the UK and in countries where it is illegal to be themselves and he campaigns to raise awareness of discrimination within those communities. Working with schools and universities and delivering online talks, Lismore shares his personal story with people of all backgrounds, genders and sexualities. 

The sculptures in this gallery, and the graffitti on the walls showcase Lismore's belief that if an artwork has a purpose, then his purpose is activism.

looking closer

the back

looking closer

the train of this dress is a political banner

Gallery 5 - annexe

In 2018, Daniel Kramer, artistic dicrector of English National Opera visited Daniel Lismore's exhibition in Reykjavik. Following this, Lismore was invited to design 70 otherworldly costumes for ENO's 2019 production of Harrison Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus, a story of love, loss and transformation. This huge commission was the first time Lismore had designed costumes for the stage and was a pivotal moment in his career.

Lismore debuted one of the costumes at Naomi Campbell's 2019 event for Fashion for Relief, a charitable organisation created in 2005 that has raised funds for environmental and humanitarian causes. To create the work, Lismore used a lucid dreaming technique, tapping into his unconscious to conjure up his creation. He was also inspired by the surrealism of the story and the music of the production.

It was important for him to bring his usual techniques to the project, embellishing the costumes with 400,000 reignited Swarovski crystals, and reusing the recycling materials and costumes from ENO's archive. In this exhibition, Lismore presents costumes from The Mask of Orpheus: The Oracle, The 'Hellish'Nurse, Orpheus and Eurydice, Dionysus and the Pink Monsters, including the costume Lismore debuted for Fashion for Relief.

The Mona Lisa with a scowl, rather than a smile.

back view

looking closer


Gallery 6:

The sculptures in this gallery reflect Lismore's journey into the fashion world, his involvement with London's queer club scene and his obssession with popular culture. 

Newly commissioned for this exhibition, Lismore's sculpture The Prime Minister celebrates and platforms queer culture. Emerging from the sculpture are the colours that make up the Progress Pride flag, the most recent rendition designed by Valentino Vecchietti.  The Prime Minister promotes inclusivity and Lismore's ethos to be your true self in a time where existences can be wrongfully questioned and challenged.

looking closer

side view

Vermeer's Girl with Pearl Earring photograph - with Lismore, it's all in the detail and cultural references are to be found in every costume

This Pop Art inspired piece, Countess, features a reconstruction of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can 

another can on the cuff

a side view

and the back

On the video we watched in Gallery 1 Lismore said that it takes him 20 minutes to get dressed - really?

Gallery 3:

Even though this is Gallery 3, we could only gain access at the end of the tour of the exhibition. The work here plays homage to Lismore's earliest inspiration - the Chinese Terracotta Army. Much like the warriors of the Terracotta Army, each of lismore's sculptures is unique, but together they form a united cohort, standing in solidarity in a regimented fashion.

These sculptures are some of Lismore's most embellished works, comprising metals, jewels, armour, chainmail and more. He incorporates the idea of clothing as armour into his sculptures as a symbol of protection. He was the first person to wear armour to Parliament since it was made illegal by Oliver Cromwell. There is an accompanying soundscape by composer Einar Orn Benediktsson of recording of the sculptures in motion.

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