Daniel Lismore's Living Art


Daniel Lismore’s London townhouse is overflowing with wearables. The same goes for his storage units; they’re stuffed to the brim with garments and accessories. But not the kind of clothing that most of us would look at and see the potential. Nowhere amongst the jewelry—new, antique, gifted, shattered, repurposed—nor the hijabs, the errant safety pins, and the draped textiles...nowhere is there a pair of blue jeans.

“I hate how I look in jeans,” says Lismore. “I always have. Yeah, I have some punk tees and some more normal stuff, but no jeans.”

Lismore is both the artist and the artwork. His non-binary, gender-fluid outfits always make a statement—even if it’s done with the help of a punk tee. He’s taken the art of dressing so far, however, that a pedestrian pair of blue jeans might in fact be a statement at this point. But not any time soon.

For now, and for nearly two decades, the 35-year old’s style is an outburst of eccentricities, and yet dialed in and refined all at once. It’s a layering of textiles and accessories, gifted from every corner of the globe, or found at a charity shop in his Camden neighborhood. It wouldn’t be unusual to see Lismore wearing a century-old embroidered bodice under a chainmail headpiece and wide-brimmed hat, dripping in pearls, with colorful velvet gloves and a colorful skirt gifted from a Chilean ambassador. To learn what he’s wearing resembles a game of mad libs, like “Today Daniel is wearing _________ from _______ and a _______ _______ with ________ from _______.”

That’s because there is no real rhyme or reason to his process, besides the fact that this process itself—the act of turning his own body into the canvas—is how Lismore feels most comfortable. It all took off when he was 19, fresh-faced to London, a lover of history and world cultures, tribalism, and royals, as well as extraordinary artists whose work infiltrated their own lives (like David Lachapelle and the late Isabella Blow, both of whom would become friends of Lismore’s once his own work reached their echelon.) This hodgepodge of interests would throw itself onto Lismore’s body, as he gathered odd-end, oft-unrelated items that allowed him to express himself. And soon, Daniel Lismore, both artist and artwork, was fully realized. And since then, every day has been its own showcase—though, that’s the wrong word to use.

“I’m not showcasing anything. It’s just me ‘being,” Lismore says with a matter-of-fact breath of calm.

But to be Daniel Lismore and to garner attention for your outfits comes with its own set of rules: You must make good with that spotlight. Lismore mingles amongst celebrities, is flown to every corner of the world to present his artwork, or speak on process and motivation. (When we spoke, he had just returned from New Delhi, where he spoke at India Design ID 2020, a global interior design conference.)

“If I am the artwork, then I need to have a message,” Lismore says. “For me, that message must be activism. That is my guiding light. Plus, I’m often spending time with actors or even with actual queens—the 1% of the world—so I have this great opportunity to do something with my platform and access these people, while also promoting a message to a broader audience.”

This activist lens provided a large influence over the initial growth of Lismore’s art, too: A humanitarian trip to Kenya with ICROSS and New World International introduced him to the peoples of the Maasai and Samburu tribes there. After what Lismore describes as a very meaningful “cultural give and take a pure exchange”, he returned to London with the perspective that, in western society, people are fueled by gluttony and greed, without any acknowledgment or framing of that good fortune.

“Spending time in Kenya created an anger in me for how unjust the world is,” Lismore said. “And it turned me into an activist.”

Now, that activism has as many dimensions as one of Lismore’s outfits: Alongside his friend Pamela Anderson, he’s especially vocal about the protection of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the prevention of his extradition to and trial in the United States.

“The threat of him being sent to America is that all journalists can be gagged, and we would lose a lot of ground on free speech,” Lismore says. “And if that happens then the whole world will suffer.”

Lismore also is an ambassador for Cool Earth, a climate-change charity that repopulates rain forest trees, fights deforestation, and provides financial assistance and resources to the communities who live there. He was the face of H&M’s 2016 clothes-recycling campaign and has assisted Vivienne Westwood in her campaigns against climate change. And if you want a laugh—or a gasp, depending on your proclivities—then search for the photo of Lismore with an unassuming, laughing Nigel Farage. Farage is the head of the UK’s Brexit Party, and you need nothing more than a certain four-letter C-word (written coyly on Lismore’s forearm, as he points to the politician) to know how the artists feels about nationalism and cultural separatism. The juxtaposition of these two men is fantastic, too: Lismore is covered in black-and-gold sparkly accouterments and boasts a bright pink lip, next to the tipsily red-faced, suited-and-tied conservative.

“When I saw Nigel Farage, my blood boiled,” says Lismore. “I've never used the mainstream media for my advantage before, but this was the time. I orchestrated between friends in the room to make it happen. Jo Wood wrote the word on my arm. I got my friend who spoke to him to introduce me and organized for a famous designer and Jo to take images, as I stood as long as possible next to him without saying a word or even acknowledging him. I tapped all the journalists on the shoulders as I went to walk over to Nigel. I told them to follow me. Nigel had no idea and even said goodbye when he left.”

Like any work of art, Lismore’s style prompts various questions. Two obvious ones arise first. One: Is Lismore blurring the lines of gender expression in his work? Lismore’s makeup could be called “traditionally feminine”, while the artist himself uses “he/him” pronouns. (Lismore also is an outspoken advocate for his LGBTQ community.)

As it turns out, his art takes a non-binary approach: “I think my work has always transcended ,” Lismore says. “I’ve never really thought about gender or sexuality when it came to my art. Most people mistake it being about that, but again, it’s just me being me, and not even thinking about those roles. So, it can be everything as it relates to gender, but it’s also nothing.”

Secondly: Is there any level of appropriation in the work, given that Lismore often wears items representative of other cultures?

“For me, it’s about cultural appreciation, not appropriation,” he says. “When I have something on from another culture, I’ve either been given it or it’s a trade. If a store like Primark were to go make Maasai jewelry and sell it throughout the world, then that’s appropriation, and that’s wrong. But if I go to Dubai and the Royal Family there tells me they’d like me to wear their clothes, and they take me to the tailor to be fitted for some clothes and some hijabs and a burqa, then what do I do? I can’t say ‘no thank you, that’s appropriation’. Because it’s not. Do I leave it in a cardboard box to rot, or do I wear it and later put it on a mannequin in a museum? Only then can people see the beauty of it, and better understand culture. Without sharing our cultures with other people—through education or art or artifacts—then there becomes a lot of fear, hatred, and a lack of education about other places.

“When you’re fortunate enough to travel all around the world, and you really do take all of these things in and you give back as much as you can, well, it’s one big cultural exchange going on. You could go so far with it in the wrong way, about appropriation. But I’ve always had permission from others to wear their pieces. And that makes a big difference.”

And as for that cultural exchange, there’s a globetrotting show of Lismore’s work, which has already made stops in Atlanta; Miami’s Art Basel; Reykjavík, Iceland; Naples, Italy; and Poznan, Poland; more destinations will be announced soon. The exhibition displays dozens of Lismore’s illustrious, transgressive outfits—some of them, exact replicas, some of them reimagined—and continues to grow with each stop. It is an extension of Lismore’s book, Daniel Lismore: Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken, published in 2017 by Rizzoli.