Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson (1955-2010)
Affectionately known as Sleazy or Unkle Sleazy, Peter Christopherson died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Bangkok on 24th November 2010. He was 55 years old, a highly creative design artist, photographer, video director, and a talented musician. In the mid 70's he became a partner in the Hipgnosis design agency, which produced album covers for Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Factory Records. He designed logos, directed TV commercials and prestigious music videos, took the first promo photos of the Sex Pistols, created controversy, and left a rich legacy of innovative music.
In 1976 he joined up with Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter to form the provocative electronic group, Throbbing Gristle, and the independent label of Industrial Records. Some of their stage performances were so outrageous that even their punk audiences were repulsed, leading to 'sick-stunt' articles in the tabloid newspapers, and hypocritical condemnation as the 'wreckers of civilization' by the Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn, who was soon to be arrested for indecent exposure himself. After Throbbing Gristle folded in 1981, Sleazy and Genesis formed the electro-visual enterprise, Psychic TV, with their second album introducing his new and long-term partner, Jhonn Balance. Sleazy and Jhonn later fronted a band called Coil, and they continued to produce a large body of work until Jhonn's sudden death in 2004. Coil soundtracks featured on some of Derek Jarman's films, and Sleazy's work influenced artists such as Marilyn Manson, Ian Curtis, and the whole techno scene in general.
After Jhonn Balance's death Sleazy moved to Bangkok in 2005, where he remained until his recent demise. Yet his creative energy remained vital to the end, with the reformation of Throbbing Gristle, and the formation of 'The Threshold HouseBoys Choir ' and 'SoiSong' in Bangkok.
Most of this brief outline above I have gleaned from a Guardian obituary, Wikipedia, and a short remembrance from Cosey and Chris Carter, which closes with the line: "Peter was a kind and beautiful soul. No words can express how much he will be missed." This sentiment is now expressed a thousand-fold over the internet, and a Book of Condolences has opened at unklesleazy.tv where people can make a special donation for their names to be inscribed on a plaque at the Children's Orphanage in Thailand to help children affected by AIDS.
I knew nothing of Peter Christopherson until I received a long e-mail from him in September 2009 after he had met my friend Isabelle Onians in Bangkok. He described himself as being a little bit famous/notorious for his underground bands, Coil and Throbbing Gristle, as well as shooting album covers for Hipgnosis back in the 70's and directing music videos in Hollywood. His reason for writing was that he admired my art and wanted to use some of my drawings as auspicious embroidery designs on his favourite silk garments, and he also asked if I would consider selling him an original painting or drawing of mine. From his words about Thai imagery, graphics and tattoos it was obvious that Peter was a lover of art and beauty, so we wrote back to each other and arranged to meet in March this year when I was putting on an exhibition at the Serindia Gallery in Bangkok.
While I was in India in the 70's an art publisher suggested I should contact Storm Thorgerson at Hipgnosis studio if I ever returned to London; he thought Storm might employ me as a graphic artist. This I did, but Storm was too manic with deadlines to pay much attention to me: sadly Peter wasn't there that day, for the rest of my life might have turned out to be quite different if I had met him instead of Storm. Then in 1982 a photographer friend took me to the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, South London, where William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, John Giorno, and a few other poets were giving a performance called 'The Final Academy'. Gysin's reading was about an eccentric old friend of mine from Kathmandu named Hetty, and it was strange to hear her being so vividly evoked in this venue. But stranger still was the video imagery that Psychic TV was projecting on screen in the background, with a long sequence of footage depicting the most horrific act of self-mutilation imaginable - the visual memory of which can still occasionally haunt me.
Yet when I met Peter on the opening evening of my show, it was clear why Isabelle thought we would get on well together, for the man's soul was deep and ancient, full of warmth, affection and gravitas. He reminded me of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, but unlike Marlon Brando's characterization Peter was soft and unpretentious. The next day the Red Shirts marched into Bangkok to try and overthrow the Thai Government, and their long siege of the city began.
A couple of weeks later Peter and I spent four hours together in a coffee shop near Shane's apartment in Ari, talking deeply about the soul and its affairs. He was very open to my understanding of the afterlife and the path I had chosen to follow since my daughter had been killed, which essentially involves direct experience of the spirit-world through a deep hypnotic NDE-like process known as 'Life Between Lives' (LBL). The only questions I asked Peter about his somewhat famous/notorious persona as Sleazy was about the 'fourteen houseboys' Isabelle had mentioned, and whether the man in that self-mutilation scene had really done what I believed he had. Peter giggled about his houseboys, then calmly told me it was he who had actually filmed that man taking a razor to his genitals in the name of art.
Strangely, while I was writing this paragraph above I turned on the radio to get news about the recent cold weather, just as Radio 4 was presenting a short obituary feature on Peter, with Cosey and Aubery Powell from Hipgnosis serving as guests. So I learned more about the character of Sleazy today, whose name was evidently derived when he went back-stage to meet Cosey after she had been performing topless. I learned more about his dark, enigmatic and reclusive side, his passion for life and music, of his menacing skill and his twisting of ideas, of how he had gone to Auschwitz to photograph a cover for one of his albums.
But the person I sat with on that day was definitely not sleazy. He was a wide-open soul who had transcended the duality of the profane-spirituality that he espoused into something far more pure and meaningful. And this was born from the bleeding heart of his desolate loss for a fallen angel he had once loved so long and deeply. And like Kurtz he had to learn to live within the Heart of Darkness, where all that is secret finds nowhere to hide, and where only the truth of accepting one's deepest fears can cause the daylight to bleed in again.
I think we learned a lot about each other during our conversation that day, and my only regret is that we didn't tape record it. Peter hoped to buy a painting of Manjushri from the exhibition, a wisdom-deity who appears in the dancing form of a lithe twelve-year-old boy. But like many an artist he was waiting for money to arrive from abroad, and his fabled bordello of houseboys had recently dwindled to a small apartment further out of town. Yet he was optimistic and hoped one day to have his own LBL session in England, just as I hoped to be back in Bangkok this winter. Neither of which came to pass, for destiny sometimes has other plans than the one's we make.
I never did get to meet Sleazy, but I met a man named Peter who readily revealed his soul to me in a stolen moment of time, a man who was naked and unashamed. I wrote to Peter when I got back to England, just days before the confrontation with the Red Shirts exploded into violence, ending my letter with Whitman's observation that: "True democracy occurs when soul meets soul on the open road."
His Guardian obituary finishes with some words that he wrote in July of this year: "We are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so all humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do but will just be starting a new (and hopefully even better) adventure."
I take great comfort in this certainty too Peter, and add my name to those who will miss you. Though even a plaque with a million names might never be as big and famous as your heart.
"Farewell brother. I will not meet your like again. The shadow of Don Quixote lowers its lance and you are overstood." (Ira Cohen)