Saturday 13th January saw the launch of Glastonbury’s first Body Art event in the Assembly Rooms. Organised by The Facepainting Company’s Mel Broom and Glastonbury local Stephen Duross, the event was a fantastic success in every sense of the word. The theme ‘Myths, Legends and Mythical Creatures’ is perfect for a town which frequently hosts gatherings of faeries, goddesses and lovers of myth and fantasy. Body artists and models travelled from all over the UK to join others from the town, with a couple coming from the Netherlands. For a couple of hours in the afternoon the public had been admitted to watch the artists at work, this had been hugely popular.
I arrive at 7pm and take a seat with some friends, Khi Deva tells me I have become the Samuel Pepys of Glastonbury, which is nice as I’ve been suffering from a crisis of confidence and have had to drag myself out of the house.
The catwalk show begins, introduced by compère Guy Clifford. Winter themes are popular, as are dryads and woodland creatures. The models are not simply painted, some sport wings – feathered, fairy and butterfly. Many wear elements of costume – skirts with long trains, huge and extravagant headpieces, fantastic footwear and horns. Some carry staffs topped with lit globes. I was surprised to see a man in the artists’ seats with a bow, until he hands it to Aria to complement her Woodland Archer look. Several of the models are dreadlocked. One is painted as Medusa with an imposing snake headdress. It is a parade of beautiful breasts and bottoms, some sylph-like, others curvy. For once we are given permission to look and admire without embarrassment, it is an enchanting experience.
Here’s a video I filmed of the finale of the catwalk show, featuring all 30 models.
Local florist Nina of Enchanted Florals has decorated the catwalk with a spectacular display of ferns and pampas grass. Touches like these give the whole event a professional feel. There’s the odd technical hitch – lighting not quite bright enough for the detail of the artwork to be fully appreciated and the number of artists, models and crew means that some members of the public simply could not be fitted into the venue and had been turned away. The odd problem is inevitable with a first event though, despite everyone’s best efforts, and I am confident the next will be even bigger and more spectacular. After the hour-long catwalk show, there’s an after-party featuring local swing, jazz band “Animal Krackers”, many of the models stay to dance.
The buzz in the hall is palpable, created not just by layers of painstakingly applied body paint, but also through the real connections forged through the long day between artists and models. It’s a sleepy, inward-looking time of year when most of us are having difficulty getting out of our pajamas, yet in an instant, we have been transported, as if by magic, to a beautiful Summer’s day at a festival in Fairyland.
I’m used to seeing people in fairytale costumes in this town, but clothes aren’t always enough to hide the uncertain human beneath. Chatting to the models after the show it seems to me that they have not just been transformed on the outside by the experience, but also enthused. Despite being essentially naked, but for skimpy thongs or pants, the thin layer of paint appears to have imbued them with confidence and otherworldly glamour, into truly fantastic creatures.
Many Glastonbury residents are involved, including local artist Linda Ravenscroft who’s painted a human canvas for the first time, with beautiful results. Her model, Aliss, is transformed into a work of art celebrating the transition of Winter to Spring. Glastonbury Tor embellishes her belly, three phases of the moon cover her breasts and chest bone and she is crowned with cherry blossom. Linda jokes that she and Aliss were already friends, but ‘never that intimate’. Alice felt very nervous about getting up onto the catwalk, but despite being clad only in paint, knickers and a scrap of netting she doesn’t feel naked. In fact, were it not the middle of Winter, she tells me she’d be perfectly comfortable walking around the town.
Tonia, a friend of mine from Glastonbury, is a Dryad, covered in beautiful dappled tones of green and yellow. She explains how the bark and bracket fungus effect over her breasts and hips is achieved with finely modelled upholstery foam, paint and a matt spray varnish. I go to take a photo but she stops me “Wait until I get my ear back on, fucking things keep falling off”. She’d never met her artist, Lainy Taylor, before but had clearly loved the experience. I’d spotted Tonia in the afternoon while she was halfway through being painted, despite the layer of green she was instantly recognizable, it was as if the artist had revealed her inner essence. I tried to express that, but it came out of my mouth as “You look like Shrek’s beautiful sister”.
Tonia reveals that while the models waited in the changing room for the catwalk show to begin, they realized it could be the scene in a very strange doctor’s surgery. They filled the time quipping about their various ailments – those with Winter themes complaining they never seemed to be able to get warm, the dryads bemoaning the moss and mushrooms that appeared to be randomly sprouting from their bodies.
Outside with the naughty smokers in the alleyway, a visiting model from the Netherlands towers over hobbit like me, she’s at least six feet tall, even more in her impressively high heels. Huge white wings adorn her back and a unicorn horn sprouts from her forehead. She is magnificent, I know I should talk to her, but I am simply too overawed to speak. I have a horrible suspicion I am staring at her with my mouth open, looking like a fish on a hook.
I’m rescued from my stunned stupor by Terry English, creator of beautifully detailed armour for film and private collectors for over 50 years. He’s quite a character, well dressed in dogtooth overcoat, cravat and fedora hat, with a twinkle in his eye.The picture of an old-fashioned gent, yet with his small frame he could have stepped out of the world of Faerie himself. Terry tells me he wanted to take part as an artist for this event, but they were already fully subscribed. For the next one he plans a fusion of body art and armour
Terry reveals he once body doubled for Sean Connery’s headless, but animated, corpse in the 1984 film ‘Sword of the Valiant’. I tell him about the blog and he asks me to quote him “Glastonbury is a magical place where good people come together to make magic and get the planet back to what it was and should be. Long may it continue”, He sees this event as a part of this “It’s a roaring success because all the magical people have come together and birthed it”. There’s clearly a lot of magic in Terry’s world, I feel like a little of it has rubbed off, I’m definitely not feeling as cynical as usual. Or perhaps it was just the glass of mead he bought me.
Compère Guy Clifford is striking in his wide black and white striped suit and top hat. He’s compèred at other body art events including Elfia, the Elf Fantasy Fair in the Netherlands, he tells me he always gets nervous but he loves it. He’s been living in Glastonbury for a year and is clearly delighted to see friends from other body art events around the UK together in what is now his hometown.
I chat with Shelley Grey the Facepainting Faerie and one of today’s artists, who explains there are body art events all over the UK and the world. Like many of the attendant artists she is based in the South West. She loves Glastonbury and was happy to have an excuse to come to the town. She lives near Stonehenge and is doing a degree in TV and Film Media, she’s been body painting for four years and is also a Master Florist. Events like this give her material for her portfolio. Like other body artists, she hopes to get work on big film productions like Game of Thrones, for this sort of work a degree is mandatory.
The artists tell me that the body paints are all super eco and safe, I ask about smudging (imagining models too scared to go for a wee) and learn that once upon a time the models would have been sprayed with hairspray but that’s banned now. Instead, they use specialist make-up brushes that keep the delicate artwork in place. Apparently, it will only take about 15 minutes of showering to remove.
I meet flamboyant and friendly husband and wife team Chrissie and Paul. She’s a henna artist who also produces fantastic UV artwork on ethically sourced animal skulls – see her Skulluminarty facebook page Chrissie was excited to try body painting and assumed she’d be paired with a model at the event, but Paul decided to step in and model for her. He is one of three men modelling tonight.
I catch organizer Stephen Duross in the changing room, he’s still resplendent in gold paint and glitter. I ask him how he thinks it’s gone, he tells me “It’s the best day of my life! The easiest gig I’ve ever done, it’s been a joy and a pleasure. We’ve had so much support, the community has embraced this massively. It’s been awesome. I’m knackered”. I leave him to change into more comfortable underpants in peace.
I ask Morgan Pandolfino, Stephen’s partner, co-organiser and a model at the event, what inspired them to organize a body art event for the town? She says “Twenty-seven years ago I was the body art model for an artist called Malu Wiltz. She painted a suit on me and had me walk around the show at Olympia. Back then it was considered really risque and people were shocked. I mentioned to Stephen that I’d love to be painted again before my 50th birthday, which is this year, and so ta-da! the next thing you know we are organizing this! I also love to bring the magic and mystical into people’s lives whenever I can. Life can be hard and we all need a little magic sometimes. To be honest, the catwalk was a real bucket list moment, I’ve never done that before!”
Lisa, manager of the Assembly Rooms tells me that this event embodies “the kind of creative expression that the Assembly Rooms was made for”, she’s clearly enjoyed it, although she’s not looking forward to clearing up afterward. “They’re worse than the fairies for glitter, it’ll take weeks to get off the hall floor”.
The event is in aid of Children’s World, a charity set up by the late Arabella Churchill in 1981. They run educational, fun workshops for children in the UK and internationally in partnership with NGO’s. Fundraiser Kristen is tired after a very long day, following a week of feeling quite overwhelmed by the work required to keep the charity afloat. With no Glastonbury Festival in 2018, they are in financial crisis as the festival is their major source of fundraising. Despite this Kristen’s eyes are sparkling and she is clearly enervated by the offers of help for the charity that have been forthcoming this evening. Organiser Stephen Duross’s desire to fundraise for a local children’s charity could not have been more timely, towards the end of the event I hear that over a thousand pounds was raised for the charity. If you’d like to contribute please see their Localgiving page.
It is clear a special bond has grown between all the participants – models, artists, organizers. Yet the joy and care that has built up is big enough to encompass all of us in the building. By the end of the night, I feel like I’ve really been a part of this joyful celebration of beauty, art and life. Sometimes the most unexpected things in Glastonbury feel like a blessing.
The organizers have promised this will be the first of many Glastonbury Body Art events and are already planning the next.
Thanks to photographer Mark Pickthall, who took the wonderful photos on this post and kindly let me use them. Do visit his website to see more examples of his work, much of which is taken in the South West. If you would like large resolution copies please contact him via the contact details on his website. The video was mine.
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