Judy Blame & Mark Lebon: Art & Chaos

Chris was always almost obsessively grateful, and was consequently quite happy most of the time. Later I came to appreciate Gilbert K. Chesterton’s idea that “…thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Chris was also quite shy, so being whisked off to Japan about 25 years earlier must have suited his reclusive nature. He was an alcoholic, not that that means much in itself, though the addictive practice and the obsessive and compulsive humor that goes with that territory were something both Judy and I identified with, and so our creative natures were also lubricated and ran smoothly for most of the time.

What actually brought and kept us together was a shared aesthetic, each with our own areas of practice that complimented and facilitated each other’s output. None of us fit into the existing 80s mainstream of spandex and shoulder pads. But there was room for us in the post-punk soul dub and reconstructed zeitgeist that i-D magazine went on to exemplify

i-D moved from its unoriginal and inauthentic fanzine format—horizontal, stapled, black and white—into a more coherent color format—portrait, perfect bound, full color—wanting to challenge the commercial values of The Face magazine that so perfectly reflected the 80s’ Me Generation. After all, i-D owner Terry Jones’ previous job was as art director of British Vogue; he was too old to be a punk.

I think i-D wanted The Face’s financial success without selling out to an aesthetic that directly challenged its anarchic, deconstructed, creative values. I feel this was a duality Chris, Judy, and I related to. Our aesthetic was eventually exemplified in the name I gave to my relationship with Judy and Chris in my archive “The Penny and the Post Sack”. It had a socio-political angle to it, haute couture for those who’d never afford it. Handmade yet also recycling the machine age, deconstructed and reconstructed. It wasn’t only i-D that were unknowingly involved in this moment – Swatch had just debuted their see-through watches harking back to the time when you could see the workings of a fob-watch, and those Swatches were at a very affordable price.

It was at the watches’ launch in Convent Garden that I first saw Chris. Swatch’s British PR firm commissioned me to cover the event, and it was in that rare moment of carrying a camera that I spotted and photographed Chris. Many years later this experience informed my personal understanding of why I love photography, but I’ll return to that later. I asked him about his clothes, and discovered there was a rack of them in a stall in Kensington Market. Cuts, my brother James’ hair salon, was in the basement, and I ran a club, gallery, and magazine from there. It was weeks, if not a couple of months, before I found Chris’ rack of clothes in the very same spot I had discovered Sue Clowes’ wild prints that my then stylist “Boy” George O’Dowd went on to use and make famous. I took the whole rack. I can’t remember paying for any of it, but left my contact details. So Chris got in touch with me, and our relationship started. I can’t remember if it was before or after that that I met Judy. At first Judy frightened me. I thought he was the fabulous Rachel Auburn’s heavy-thug, skinhead boyfriend until Rachel called him Judy Blame. We met again when Camilla Nickerson cast him for a Tatler baldies story. It was soon after that I shot Chris for “Shooting Up”, the magazine’s talent section.

Recycling and reconstruction were reflected in the way I’d treated the walls of my recently deceased mother’s flat on New Cavendish Street—stripping it down, revealing the original plaster and paintwork. I’d started to use the flat during and after the breakdown of my partnership with Ruth, my very young son Tyrone’s mum. The walls—Judy’s old Penny broche, Chris’s use of stolen post sacks and discarded Brick Lane jacket details—all complemented each other. Our aesthetic was born, and a solid partnership was started. We were all aware of our commercial process’ shortcomings, and that in turn inspired our practice. Chris couldn’t work out how he fit into the art world, so he took his art practice into making clothes, thus becoming his own curator, and also engaging directly with his audience. You can see this in his clothes and pictures, particularly in the red, post-sack frock coat. Garments turn into pictures; I liked the red frock coat that didn’t fit me, so for my birthday he gave it to me as a picture, seen on the second spread of this story. You can also see it as a jacket on the title page of this story. This relationship between art and clothes went back and forth regularly right from his earliest days and became more sophisticated and important to his practice.

I was having issues fitting into the fashion world. Photography’s ability to represent new talent, particularly through fashion and magazine work, created human discourse and relationships outside the more traditional remit of fine art or commercial fashion photography’s compartmentalized pomp and circumstance. My ability as a photographer to represent was a revelation, and was my first heartfelt justification for what I did. (Though it wasn’t a conscious intellectual realization for at least another 10-20 years.) Judy had his issues fitting into jewelry design and found his place by diversifying into styling, accessorizing, and consultancy. In all three of us, you can see how we attempted to express human nature and its process of communication and interchange with our aesthetic by revealing (often quite naively) our process wherever possible. We also did this by diversifying our roles. The exposed plaster walls of that flat saw many bohemian goings-on. It wasn’t long before Judy moved in and slept in a small cupboard under the stairs and Chris supplied our wardrobes. Chris and Judy became my raison d’être within both photography and the fashion business. We decided I should become their first agent, so there’s a glimpse at the beginnings of our 30 year long relationship that puts these photos in some context. So much happened in those first couple of years, enough to fill a book. And time and space willing, I will make a big fat book about all of it. — Mark Lebon