Leigh Bowery ('What is he trying to get at? Where does he want to go?')

1 portrait

Leigh Bowery ('What is he trying to get at? Where does he want to go?'), by Stephen Willats, 1984 - NPG 6660 - © Stephen Willats

© Stephen Willats

Leigh Bowery ('What is he trying to get at? Where does he want to go?')

by Stephen Willats
two panel work (photographic prints, photographic dye, ink, acrylic paint, and objects mounted on board) with tower of ten painted breeze blocks, 1984
panel one ('What is he trying to get at?'): 1520 mm x 980 mm (59 7/8 in. x 38 1/2 in.); panel two ('Where does he want to go?'): 1520 mm x 980 mm (59 7/8 in. x 38 1/2 in.); tower: 2000 mm x 440 mm (78 3/4 in. x 17 1/4 in.)
Purchased, 2004
Primary Collection
NPG 6660

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Sitterback to top

  • Leigh Bowery (1961-1994), Australian performance artist. Sitter in 3 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This portrait was collaborative and reflects Bowery's transformation from his daytime to his night time self. The quotations, hand-written by Bowery, were taken from taped interviews conducted by Willats. The breezeblock tower that divides the day panel from the night was Bowery's innovation and represents the block of flats in East London where he lived.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG D17003: Worksheet One for 'What is he trying to get at? Where does he want to go?' (study)
  • NPG D17002: Worksheet One for 'What is he trying to get at? Where does he want to go?' (study)

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Events of 1984back to top

Current affairs

The Provisional IRA bomb the Grand Hotel in Brighton where various politicians, including the Prime Minister, where staying for the annual Conservative Party conference. The bomb killed five people including a conservative MP, but no members of the cabinet. Thatcher began the next session of the conference the following morning at 9.30 as planned saying: 'all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.'

Art and science

Dr Alec Jeffreys discovers that patterns in an individual's DNA can be identified and that each person has a unique 'genetic fingerprint'. The technique was soon utilised by forensic scientists to help in criminal investigations, and in order to identify human remains, for paternity testing, and to match organ donors. Ted Hughes is appointed poet Laureate.


Ethiopia suffers severe drought and famine. The Ethiopian government responded by uprooting large numbers of peasants in the worst affected areas and by setting up new villages for the displaced people. However, the planned villages were frequently poorly equipped and many people chose to flee rather than acquiesce with government plans leading to further decline in food production and bringing the total death toll to over 1 million.

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