Gordon has always been very private; extensive work with different identities, masks and personas has made it difficult for the public to find out what the ‘real’ Gordon is like. Due to the nature of his upbringing, he himself only began to look into his family history after his famous performance duo Two4One split up in 2002, leading him into a period of introspection and discovery.

BIRTH & ADOPTION

Gordon was born on January 9th, 1971 in Belfast, Northern Ireland to parents Sarah O’Hagan and Joe Murry. Not much is known about them, but it seems that they were a young, working class couple who could not afford to keep their baby, either financially or socially, as they were unmarried and also from different communities. Joe is listed on records as a part-time postman; no employment is given for Sarah. They gave Gordon up for adoption at three weeks old. His name appears on records as “Gordon Smith”. His parents did not stay together after the adoption: Sarah emigrated to Australia in 1976. Joe died in a car crash in 1978 at the age of 27. Gordon attempted to track his mother down in 2002 but discovered she had passed away of cancer eighteen months earlier. Gordon never met his parents but claims that his earliest memory is of his mother laying him down, wrapped in a blanket. Given his age at the time, he acknowledges that it is unlikely the memory is authentic, however year later when he saw a photograph of his mother when she was young, he said it matched the image in his memory.

UNSETTLED

The young Gordon did not have a settled childhood, and moved between nine different foster homes by the age of six. This was partially fuelled by the Troubles, which caused families to have to relocate and send Gordon to places where they thought he might be safer. The near-constant moving from place to place gave Gordon his sense of rootlessness, but also individuality. He often drew and made up stories to occupy himself, and learnt to perform magic and card tricks in order break the ice with new families or classmates. Always, he avoided awkward questions about his background. Because of frequent school moves, Gordon often found himself either ahead or behind the rest of the pupils in his various classes, and had to fill in gaps in his learning himself, but was an enthusiastic reader and intelligent. He was interested in art, literature and film – anything that allowed him to escape from his complicated life.

UNCONTROLLABLE

When he was eleven, his foster parents at the time, one of whom was an evangelical preacher, sent him to an all-boys boarding school in rural north Devon, an experience Gordon hated. Bullying was rife and he found he had to hide his interests and personality even more than usual. He had little access to the books and art supplies he was used to, so took to the outdoors as a form of escape and freedom. He often took walks in the countryside around the school and lost track of time, walking for hours and miles on end, until he realised he had to turn back. He sometimes was picked up by the police in one of the nearby villages, alerted by the school. He was punished and forbidden from leaving the school grounds unattended, but he ignored these restrictions and despite his good grades was expelled at fourteen. This caused his foster parents to claim he was “uncontrollable”, so he was moved once more and ended up back in Belfast.

CREATIVE STIMULATION

Here, his foster parents were a better match for him – Peter Travers, a French teacher, and his wife Juliette, a painter who Peter met in France. They were both in their forties and were able to give him the creative and cultural stimulation that he had been lacking for so long, and Gordon was eager to make up for lost time. They enrolled him in a good secondary school for the rest of his education, and in his later teenage years he enjoyed the music, social and theatre scenes of late ‘80s Belfast. 

BERLIN

After leaving school, Gordon went backpacking across Europe in the last six months of 1989, visiting France, Spain, Italy, Austria and West Germany. He arrived in West Berlin two weeks before the Berlin Wall fell, and spent just over two years there, falling in with a collective of artists, who he first photographed and then started to perform with. Gordon later referred to it as “the most invigorating time in my life – the old identities were gone and people were finding out who they could really be”. While in Berlin he was in a relationship with one of the collective, Nina, a performance artist and poet, who he lived with for a time. The relationship didn’t last, and many of the collective were going their separate ways as well, so Gordon returned to Peter and Juliette in Belfast in 1992. (Peter and Juliette retired to France in 2004. Peter died of a heart attack in 2006; Juliette passed away after a stroke in 2014.) 

LIGHTBULB MOMENT

Gordon enrolled in art college, originally on a photography course, but dropped out after a term as he missed the performance art he had done in Berlin. He re-enrolled on a performance course and began to develop his work. During his study, he changed his name to Gordon Osràm. The reason, he said, was because when he was younger, one of his first foster parents had told him that when things were difficult, he should always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. He didn’t know where to find any tunnels, but one day the light in his bedroom blew and his foster father had to change it. When he set down the old bulb, Gordon saw the word “OSRAM” printed on it. He said, “I was struck at how fragile and empty it seemed, but if the right energy was put into it, it became something completely different – powerful and impressive.” He adopted the name for his performance work, adding the accent “to make it seem more international”. It was in his final year at art college in 1995 that he met Clare Black, with whom he went on to form the successful performance art duo “Two4One”, famous for their use of masks to preserve their anonymity and their exploration of identity.

TWO4ONE

Gordon and Clare moved to London in early 1996. Their performances grabbed attention almost immediately, and by 1999 they were well known enough to embark on their first tour of Europe, with “SEEING”. Their work continued gaining in popularity around the world, and in 2002 they were due to give their first performance in the US, with TRUST + TRUTH in New York. However, during this performance, Clare removed their masks and revealed their – up until now closely-guarded – identities to the world. Gordon has never talked much about this period but it is clear that tensions arose between Clare and him over keeping their identities secret, which Clare felt was holding them back, but which Gordon felt was integral to their work. Two4One ended with that performance, and by all accounts contact between Gordon and Clare ceased very shortly after, with any communication over the ensuing years allegedly happening only through lawyers.

RENEWAL

Following this, Gordon disappeared for over a year, during which he travelled across the world and spent time questioning himself and trying to discover what he should do next. (This journey is reflected in Notebooks, a collection of Gordon’s personal writings from 2002-2005.) He returned to performance art and to Ireland with SELF-PORTRAITURE in 2004, marking the beginning of a period of renewed creativity. Over the ensuing seven years, Gordon produced over a dozen artworks across different mediums (performance, painting, photography, film, sculpture), which were performed and exhibited at locations worldwide including New York, Dublin, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Tokyo, Barcelona and London. No location was off-limits for Gordon’s art; after being severely injured in a car wreck, Osràm continued to perform, even in the radiography suite of a London hospital (INSIDES [2009]). Gordon’s reputation and fame grew greatly during this period, to the point where pieces of work were selling for tens of thousands of dollars and designer brands like Chanel, Dior and Armani were begging for collaborations and celebrity endorsements.

RUMOURS

Then, following his appearance at the opening of SELF-PORTRAITURE 2 in London in 2011, Gordon vanished from public life. Requests for press photography and interviews were refused; management would not give any indication on when Gordon might return or indeed whereabouts he was living. Rumours abounded, from claims that Gordon had been hospitalised and was seriously ill, to reports that he was secretly working on his most ambitious work to date. Despite this, there were no confirmed reports or official news for almost five years, until the announcement of FUNERAL – which has been described both as a retrospective and as “Gordon’s last great work of art” – due to take place in early 2016. As in the days of Two4One, Gordon has returned to mystery, leaving fans and critics alike wondering what to expect once the doors to FUNERAL open in a matter of weeks.