John LeKay

John LeKay

Infobox Artist
bgcolour = #6495ED
name = John LeKay

imagesize = 225 px
caption = John LeKay
birthname =
birthdate = 1 June 1961
location = London
deathdate =
deathplace =
nationality = British
field = Installation art
training = Isleworth Polytechnic University
movement =
works = "Spiritus Callidus #2" (Crystal Skull)
patrons =
influenced by = Francis Bacon, Rembrandt
influenced = Damien Hirst
awards =

John LeKay (born 1 June 1961) is an English conceptual and installation artist and sculptor, who lives in New York. [ "Biography"] , Retrieved 10 December 2007.] In 1993, he began to make skulls covered in crystal: he has accused Damien Hirst of copying this and other ideas.Alberge, Dalya. [ "My old friend Damien stole my skull idea"] , "The Times", 27 June 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2007.] He publishes the web site, heyokamagazine.

Life and work

John LeKay was born in London. He was educated privately and at Isleworth Polytechnic University, London in 1977. He moved to New York in 1991. Instead of higher art education, he travelled with a circus and worked at Pinewood Studios. Mitchell, Charles Dee [ "Accommodating Monsters"] , University at Buffalo Art Gallery/Research Center in Art + Culture,
27 July 1995. Retrieved from 10 December 2007 (bottom half of the page: click thumbnails).]

1983–1986, he created an installation, "Non Terrestrial Black Bird of Paradise", consisting of a Inspired by the early work of Francis Bacon and the painting of a slaughtered ox by Rembrandt, he made a “meat series”, 1986–87. An example of this is the 1987 sculpture, "This is my Body this is my Blood", consisting of a cut open decapitated lamb carcass, nailed to a piece of plywood. His 1987 sculpture, "Wind pipe", was a double bed with a varnished sewer pipe on it. In 1990, he held his first solo exhibition, at the Paula Allen Gallery, New York. Exhibits included a sensory deprivation tank, and also a large tape recorder, whose microphone was placed inside a sound-proofed plexiglass box in order to record the sound of silence.Smith, Roberta. [ "John LeKay: Paula Allen Gallery"] , "New York Times", 8 June 1990. Retrieved 10 December 2007.] Another sculpture subtitled "Vanishing Object," was a cross made out of closet freshener, which slowly evaporated in a tall plexiglass vitrine. Roberta Smith wrote in the "The New York Times":

In the early 1990s, LeKay edited an underground magazine entitled "Pig",Dannett, Adrian. [ "John LeKay – Cohen"] , "Flash Art", November/ December 1993. Retrieved from, 10 December 2007] the name referring to a Nostradamus quatrain about men with pig snouts in flying machines and standing for "Politically Incorrect Geniuses". The main contributors were artists, including Rachel Harrison, Dennis Oppenheim, Sean Landers, Rikrit Tiravaneja, Fred Tomaselli and Sue Williams, as well as Young British Artists such as Marcus Harvey, Angus Fairhurst and Damien Hirst.

1990–1994, he made "pour paintings" out of acrylic lacquer metallic car paint, using a hair dryer on some and putting others on a see-saw, swivel table to turn and tilt the paintings to create different shapes as the paint ran. His inspiration for such works came from looking at a science catalogue's microscopic slides of viruses, bacteria, AIDS, bubonic plague and cancer, which he described as "quite beautiful under a microscope". "The Watercourse Way" by Alan Watts suggested the idea of minimal effort. McKenzie, Elizabeth, and Le Kay, John. [ "Interview with Elizabeth McKenzie”] , Retrieved 10 December 2007.]

In 1991, he exhibited in the group show "The Interrupted Life" at the New Museum of Contemporary Life, New York, [ [ "The interrupted life"] , New Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 10 December 2007.] and showed "Cryonic Suspension Dewar", a container filled with liquid Nitrogen at -196°C, 320°F below zero, a temperature which prevents biochemical and metabolic activity. LeKay's intention was for a collector to buy the piece, in order to be frozen in it, when they died.

1991–1992, he exhibited at the Feature Gallery and Kenny Schacter Rove Gallery with "sex-pieces", consisting of copulating blow up sex dolls wearing caricature animal masks. In 1992, he had a show at the Randy Alexander gallery. Work included a stained orthopedic mattress covered with dildos, a medical model of a diseased scrotum, a prosthetic leg brace attached to a three legged chair, and a wheelchair balanced on top of an aluminum stepladder, Faust, Gretchen. [ “Gretchen Faust”] , ‘’Arts magazine’’, January 1992. Retrieved from, 10 December 2007.] the latter piece representing shamanism. .]

In April 1993, with a reputation as a "participant in a half-dozen trendy group shows" Melrod, George. [ "John LeKay at Cohen - New York, New York - Review of Exhibitions"] , "Art in America", November 1993. Retrieved from, 10 December 2007. Also reprinted on [] .] and a “strung out enfant terrible”, he held a show at the Cohen Gallery which “eschewed his previous sexual gimmickry, effectively blending humor and horror.” It was called "The Separation of Church and State", consisted of installations from found objects, and was held in two stages with strong references to Christian iconography.. Two sculptures were shown in the first part of the show. The title piece was a cruciform over stained carpet with a wheelchair in the centre on a mattress and Guns N’ Roses emanating from a tape recorder. A cross formed from items such as brooms and curtain rods connected to four assemblages of household junk, such as a stainless-steel sink on top of a dirty kitchen cabinet, and a headless Madonna and Child sculpture on a black and white television set resting on a leaning toilet. The other installation, "Lazyboy Jesus, 1991-92" was a dime-store image of Christ on a Naugahyde La-Z-Boy armchair.

Andrew Perchuk in "Artforum" saw in the display, "psychological disablement, the inability to experience the spiritual amidst the noise of materialism, kitsch, television, and our own laziness. At the same time we feel the oppressive nature of much organized religion, which holds out the promise of spiritual solace to those willing to pay up."Perchuk, Andrew. [ "John Lekay - exhibit at the Cohen Gallery, New York, New York - Reviews"] , "Artforum", June 1993. Retrieved from, 10 December 2007.] He observed “a certain formal elegance”, but also that “LeKay attempts to shock, revelling in his obvious poor taste,” an example of the latter being "Zipperdeedudazipperdeeday, 1991-92", which appropriated the voices of homeless black men. George Melrod in "Art in America" wrote:LeKay described "These Colors Don't Run, 1991-93"’ (an American flag topping a garbage can) as "a suicide machine" and that he worked "on the fine line where something can be really awful or really beautiful."
Damien Hirst interviewed LeKay and the transcript appears in the catalogue for the show.Hirst, Damien and LeKay, John [ "Separation of Church and State"] , Cohen Gallery catalogue, April 1993. Retrieved from, 10 December 2007.] They were both represented by the Cohen Gallery. [ [ "Guide to galleries museums artists – New York State – Directory"] , "Art in America", August 1994. Retrieved from, 14 December 2007.]

In 1993, inspired by Mayan skulls, he made 25 skulls, using crystal to create a glistening effect: "When the light hits it, it looks as if it is covered in diamonds." Initially he used paradichlorobenzene, a substance more often found as a toilet deodoriser. He first showed such a skull at the Cohen Gallery. He subsequently developed this idea, using materials such as soap and wax, artificial diamonds and Swarovski crystals.

In 1994, he held an exhibition, "Delires de L’Ange Neutre" (“Delirium of the Neutral Angel”), at the Kenny Schachter gallery in New York. [Ritchie, Mathew. [ "John LeKay at Kenny Schachter Gallery New York"] , "Flash Art", January 1995. Retrieved from, 10 December 2007.] The display consisted of an angel and fourteen demons, each displayed in their own plexiglass vitrine. The figures were made from paradichlorobenzene and this necessitated LeKay wearing a gas mask while he worked on the sculptures. The show also went to the University at Buffalo art galleryHuntington, Richard. [ "Leap of Faith"] , "Buffalo News", 11 August 1995. Retrieved from, 10 December 2007.] and similar work was in "The Monster Show" in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami. [Turner, Elisa. [ "The monsters who haunt our daily lives"] , "The Miami Herald", 15 October 1995. Retrieved from, 14 December 2007.]

In 1996, LeKay exhibited with the Kenny Schachter at the third annual Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair. Described as “tall and rather forbidding”, he arrived with a large carton containing a head made from paradichlorobenzene. [Pall, Ellen. [ "The do-it-yourself dealers"] , "The New York Times", 1 September 1996. Retrieved 14 December 2007.]

In January 2005, LeKay started the heyoka website, which campaigns against native American poverty and environmental pollution as well as featuring interviews with, amongst others, Buffy Saint Marie, Sarita Choudhury and Alex James.

Damien Hirst accusations

In 2007, when Damien Hirst exhibited "For the Love of God", a platinum cast of a skull with the surface covered with diamonds, LeKay accused Hirst of copying his idea: "When I heard he was doing it, I felt like I was being punched in the gut. When I saw the image online, I felt that a part of me was in the piece. I was a bit shocked." LeKay has stated that he was a friend of Damien Hirst between 1992 and 1994 and shared a mixed show with him. LeKay also stated that Hirst had got other ideas for his work from a “marked-up duplicate copy” of a Carolina Biological Supply Company catalogue, which he had given him. One example was Hirst’s work "Mother and Child, Divided" – a cow and calf cut in half and placed in formaldehyde: "You have no idea how much he got from this catalogue. The Cow Divided is on page 647 – it is a model of a cow divided down the centre, like his piece." Lekay said, "I would like Damien to acknowledge that 'John really did inspire the skull and influenced my work a lot.'"

olo shows

*1995 University at Buffalo Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
*1994 Kenny Schachter, New York
*1993 Cohen Gallery, New York
*1991 Randy Alexander Gallery, New York
*1990 Paula Allen Gallery, New York

Group shows have included Modern Museum of Art, Lisbon, Cabinet Gallery, London and Metropol Gallery, Austria.

Notes and references

External links

* [ John LeKay official site]
* []

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