THIS week, the British artist and writer Sebastian Horsley flew from London to Newark, N.J., to begin a book tour. In his mind, he would be an Englishman touring the Americas just as Oscar Wilde did in 1881, when he told an American customs official, "I have nothing to declare but my genius." Horsley, whose memoir, "Dandy in the Underworld," was just published in the U.S., didn't even get that quip out. The customs officials at Newark International Airport took one look at the author, who was wearing a three-piece suit and a top hat, questioned him, considered the book he was here to promote (kindly reviewed in the New York Times and Village Voice, among others) and denied him entry. After eight hours of questioning, Horsley was put on a plane and returned to London.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Horsley "was not admissible" under the CBP visa waiver program, which entitles citizens of some countries to enter the United States without a visa, but under which travelers can be refused entry if they admit on a customs form to being convicted of a crime "involving moral turpitude" or to being addicted to narcotics.
"I'm gutted," Horsley said in an e-mail message after returning home.
"They said, 'We know you're a heroin addict, we know you're a crack addict, we know you're involved in prostitution,' " he told AP.
Horsley is a 45-year-old dandy who resides in Soho, London. He grew up with wealth and privilege and two extravagantly alcoholic parents in the north of England. He went to University in Scotland and has worked as a punk musician, a stock market investor and a sex columnist. He is best known for his controversial self-crucifixion in the Philippines in 2000, which he explained at the time by saying, "How can you paint the crucifixion without being crucified?"
Carrie Kania, the publisher of Harper Perennial and the U.S. editor of his book, describes Horsley as "a method artist." He claims to have spent, respectively, 100,000 pounds three times over on suits, drugs and prostitutes. One tailor made a series of suits for Horsley that would allow him a pocket for his syringe. It's probably predictable that such details did not go over so well with U.S. Customs officials.
But in a country that still reveres its eccentrics, Horsley has done very well for him- self. Last fall British readers flocked to his memoir, bookshops displayed it prominently in their windows and two newspapers promised to never mention his name in their pages. Horsley walks that thin line between outrage and charm that often lies at the heart of style.
Into the underworld
During an interview at his two-room Soho flat last month he was eager, friendly and resplendent, wearing a custom-made white shirt, torn at the elbow, a scarlet waistcoat, and a black cravat along with red nail polish and black trousers and boots. "Two and a half years ago I stopped everything -- nicotine, heroin, crack, the needle, all at once. I'm not addicted just to drugs, but to the process of recovering, the death and the rebirth," he said. "By taking drugs and getting off of them, over and over, you regenerate your cells. That's what Burroughs said, anyway. But I don't like him, if it's all the same to you."
His apartment is sparse. In the main room there were some canvases of works in progress, a paint-spattered bespoke suit, two walls covered with snapshots of friends and, over the fireplace, a frame containing several skulls. Over a small writing table a bookshelf held books by Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Waugh, Wilde and everyone else Horsley borrows from to express his originality.
In the small bedroom a gun he said was loaded sits by the bed. "I believe in safe sex," Horsley intoned, handing over a lukewarm cup of instant decaf. He pointed out the indentation from when an angry prostitute shot at his head and missed.
"One of my taglines is 'the man who slept with 1,000 prostitutes,' " he said, knowing full well that he came up with that tagline. "But that was a while ago, so it's probably a bit more than that by now. Let's see, I've done three or maybe four whorehouses, so that would be two a week, times roughly. . . ." He continued to do the math, then gave up. "Waffle, waffle, waffle, more than a thousand anyway."
Such a position might be funny in London, but is Horsley prepared for the charge in America of misogyny?
"So what?" he said sharply. "What's it to you? If I want to be a misogynist, I'll be a misogynist! Some people don't like chicken, some people don't like football, some people don't like women. Now, I do not hate women. They are publicly worshiped and privately disdained. But even if I was a misogynist, it's none of your business." He paused for a moment. "Sorry, I'm getting quite cross. But the fact is we live in a culture where we're supposed to like everything. Nobody likes everything!"