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Adrian Howells: Death of an Icon

“I know it’s no coincidence that I’m doing work about intimacy because I so crave it myself. I feel deprived of it. I know how nourishing physical contact can be. I’m creating work about it because I don’t get it in my own life.”

Adrian Howells

Image by Niall WalkerImage by Niall Walker

Adrian Howells, a Glasgow based performance artist best known for his innovative theatre pieces died on Monday 17th March at the age of 51.

Howells engaged in increasingly radical one-to-one theatrical experiments, such as Foot Washing For The Sole, where he washed and massaged people’s feet, and Held, a journey in silence through progressive stages of intimacy from hand-holding to spooning together on a bed.

He trained as an actor, moving into more radical performance work in the 1990s with Stewart Laing and Leigh Bowery, but gradually found himself becoming dissatisfied with theatre’s conventions. His doubts came to a head when working on Asylum with acclaimed physical theatre company DV8.

“I became acutely aware that I was making work which was about my relationship with my mother, about bed-wetting, about my issues with sexual intimacy, and performing that to a whole load of people that didn’t give a monkeys about me. As a gay performer, I was not seeing my life experience or my interests or the way I saw the world represented. So you look for new ways of doing things.”

While working with artist’s collective Area 10 on an alternative cabaret night he developed Adrienne, his cross-dressing alter-ego, offering tea and biscuits to an audience of three in a space styled as her living room.

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Of Adrienne, Howells said:

“It’s me, I just happen to have make-up on and wear women’s clothes. Adrienne helped me to become more comfortable with who Adrian is.”

Soon after, he undertook a fellowship at Glasgow University, removed the makeup and began working very much as himself:

“I thought, if I am wanting to look at issues of intimacy and risk and vulnerability in a one-to-one confessional context, I need to be brave enough to remove the mask of Adrienne. I know it’s no coincidence that I’m doing work about intimacy because I so crave it myself. I feel deprived of it. I know how nourishing physical contact can be. I’m creating work about it because I don’t get it in my own life.”

Of his death, Jackie Wylie, artistic director at The Arches told the Herald Scotland:

“It is devastating for everyone who was touched by Adrian. So many would say that there truly was no one like him, who personified love, generosity and the deepest type of empathy and desire to understand those lucky enough to have met him.

“With great humour he was able to create an instant connection with anyone he encountered. He supported, encouraged and was at the heart of an entire community of artists in Glasgow who will miss him terribly.”

Social media has been awash with tributes from the UK arts community since the news emerged.  It’s clear that Adrian will be sorely missed.

Sources for this article include The British Council website, The List and The Herald Scotland.

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Categories: Celebrities Gay LGBT Performance Art

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