Immodesty Blaize on Sir Peter Blake
Immodesty Blaize went to a girls‘ covent school and has become Britain‘s most famous burlesque performer. She was crowned the 2007 'Miss Exotic World' in Las Vegas, burlesque‘s highest annual award
Sir Peter Blake was someone who inspired me as a truculent teenage art student. I was 16 years old when the first piece of Blake’s work was shown to me. He did a piece in 1959 called ‘Locker’. It was an army locker decorated with pictures of Brigitte Bardot, Kim Novak and Marilyn Monroe. When I first saw it, people at my school were covering their desks and lockers with Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, but Blake’s ‘Locker’ seemed so sensitive and private, and about longing and desire, tinged with that sort of insecurity people have about their looks. I was a massive Bettie Page fan then, and I loved his saucy ‘knife-thrower’s board’, which was painting and collage. I also loved how his collages were able to show how one little object can signify a whole period in your life.
Blake was introduced to me by my art tutor who thought it would be really up my street. Everyone else at school was into Dalí. Because I collect and hoard so many things myself, I found his work very sensitive. ‘The Love Wall’, for instance, featured all these postcards that I imagined had been sent between lovers. It was just so intimate – and yet in terms of pop art, it somehow levelled the sentiment to loads of small squares of cheaply produced card. His painting and technique was amazing, too; he’s an all-round talent. I was fascinated by the Wrestlers series; I’ve always been interested in masks and personas, and the myths and fantasy behind them. I was intrigued by Blake’ s relationship with Kendo Nagasaki, the wrestler who never took his mask off.
When you consider what society was like in the early 1950s, with massive amounts of propaganda and the all-important images of the nuclear family unit, his work was timely indeed. His imagery was cutting-edge, there’s no doubt about it. The early ‘Loelia, World’s Most Tattooed Lady’, was ironically forward-thinking, set against the classic smiley soap ads of the time.
I had no idea he would watch me perform my 2005 West End show, ‘Immodesty Blaize and Walter’s Burlesque’. After the opening night I had gone to the Groucho Club for some drinks and he came up to say hello and congratulate me on the show. It was an overwhelming moment and, though I tried to keep it to myself, I just couldn’t help it. I wanted to tell him about how he had affected me in so many ways, but felt an idiot as he had just seen me on stage at my finest, and then at the Groucho completely starstruck. He told me that he wrote his thesis on burlesque.
He’s constantly producing work, and is such a nice, gentle man. Interestingly, he’s now really concentrating on his typography and his letters. I had just done a routine with an enormous letter ‘B’ for ‘Blaize’ and had watched a fantastic documentary about how he’s obsessed with letters. At the time of my West End show, some critics said what I was doing wasn’t real theatre, being burlesque, and Blake wrote such a beautiful testimonial for me, describing how my show perfectly captured the revues of the ’40s and ’50s, when he used to sneak into Soho’s famous Raymond Revue Bar to watch Peaches Page and Trixie Little. The girls would do a tableau vivant (a living picture of naked showgirls) and a mouse would race across the stage. The women would scream and run off. It was all a publicity stunt, of course, so that they would be arrested for moving while unclothed.
Immodesty Blaize is performing at Circus at the Soho Revue Bar (formerly Raymond Revue Bar) on September 14.
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