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Photography Jamie Heath, @kurt_johnson

Sexy goth stylist Kurt Johnson celebrates queer liberation in all forms

TextDominic Cadogan

The Sydney-based creative’s dream is to inspire the next generation of young queer people to have no limits

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Growing up queer in a place that doesn’t celebrate queer people is unfortunately the difficult reality that many LGBTQ+ people have to face, even in 2020. Long story short, it does get better and once you find your community, there is nothing to stop you from happily living your best and most authentic life. 

This was exactly the case for Sydney-based stylist and art director Kurt Johnson, who grew up outside the city in a conservative area. Fastforward to 19, and he moved into the city and began honing his “glow, goth, gutter” aesthetic which naturally led him to styling. “I fell into it actually, I met an amazing stylist called Britt Mccamey who told me I should be a stylist,” he tells us. “I went and had a meeting with her and five years later I’m here doing what I love.” 

Like himself, his work – which has been featured in Office, Oyster, and Paper – is sexy, dark, and usually features OTT beauty. When he’s not styling the likes of Charli XCX, Johnson experiments with looks on himself too – often capturing himself on Instagram in a full PVC bondage suit, or nothing more than a thong and ankle-breaking stilettos. “My identity has been shaped by so many things and black metal is a huge part of that,” he explains on his “glow, goth, gutter” aesthetic. “I love wearing contact lenses, I love eyeliner, and I love occasionally wearing a full corpse paint beat.” 

Johnson hopes that by living his best life, he can help inspire a young generation of queer people who might have grown up in a more conservative area like he did. This even permeates through his tattoos, reclaiming the word ‘faggot’ on his chest – something that got his Instagram account deleted, but he’s back and more proud of being a faggot than ever. 

Here, we talk to Kurt about queer liberation, his butt, and why he relates to Edward Scissorhands. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Kurt Johnson: I grew up in a place called the Sutherland Shire just out of Sydney, most notable for the Cronulla race riots in 2005. It’s a very conservative area that I moved out of as soon as I turned 19. Growing up queer in that area made me turn to tumblr to find friends and when I realised life was better outside that area, I fled.

What are you trying to communicate through your work and why?

Kurt Johnson: Queer liberation, queer freedom of expression, and queerness in all its beautiful forms.

Who or what inspires you? 

Kurt Johnson: The entire queer community constantly inspires me, but I find most of my inspiration through queer photographic predecessors; Mapplethorpe is one of my biggest. 

Can you talk us through some of your favourite images you've created? What response did they get?

Kurt Johnson: I loved working with Dana Dentata. Her and I had this amazing creative synergy, both being inspired by so many different sub genres and feeling the safety and creative energy to combine all of them was amazing.

What’s been your career highlight so far and what do you hope to accomplish ultimately?

Kurt Johnson: Working with a plethora of queer/queer icon celebrities. I always looked to music videos and pop culture to find myself and my queerness when I was younger and if I can do that for other queer people, that’s my goal.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Kurt Johnson: I just shot an amazing story with an all queer cast, all queer team, and featuring all queer designers which I’m super excited to release.

What does beauty mean to you?

Kurt Johnson: Beauty is whatever it is that makes you feel happy. A feeling.

What’s your favourite smell and why?

Kurt Johnson: Le Labo Santal 33. It’s my signature scent and honestly one of the most amazing smells in the world.

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?

Kurt Johnson: Edward Scissorhands always really resonated with me as a young queer goth in a conservative neighbourhood. 

When do you feel most beautiful?

Kurt Johnson: When I’ve eaten a healthy meal, put on my skincare and have my Santal 33 on.

How do you want to change the world?

Kurt Johnson: By continuing to fight for the queer liberation that Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera fought for.

You’re the editor of a time-travelling beauty journal 100 years from now, what beauty trends are you reporting on? 

Kurt Johnson: Full Hunger Games beauty transformations. Cat eyes, gills, claws, fangs, anything that is not human.

You have to donate a feature/limb of your body to an icon of yours. You get nothing in return. What feature/limb do you give and why?

Kurt Johnson: My butt because I’m selfless and I know it’s my best asset.

If you had to choose one surgical enhancement, what would it be and why?

Kurt Johnson: Full face lift. I’ve always wanted one. My husband and I both have an agreement that it’s our 30th birthday present to one another.

It is the sixth day and you are creating humans. They can look however you want them to. What do they look like and why?

Kurt Johnson: Splice because iconic.

What is the future of beauty?

Kurt Johnson: Freedom of expression and celebration of everyone, and a true acceptance of the beauty of everyone. 

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