Bodmin Jail is an imposing edifice – all brown brick and austere architecture, its purpose… In recent years, it has gained a new identity as a social venue, with a popular bar and restaurant.
But diners were left open-mouthed by some of the strange creatures passing through the entrance on Saturday afternoon. Nymphs, warriors and other brightly coloured beings freely roamed the grounds during the BodyFactory contest, in which models served as living canvases for spectacular full body art. The previous weekend, my tastebuds had gone into overdrive when I judged the World Pasty Championships; this time, my eyes were assailed by a riot of colour, and the results of some fertile imaginations.
The event was organised by Nicola Shilson of Lucid Arts, who previously appeared in my blog when she painted an oriental tiger on my pregnancy bump (Art in the Round). Nic aimed to make the BodyFactory a no-holds-barred event. “There are body painting competitions all over the world, but they all have rules and regulations regarding the amount of prosthetics artists can use, or how many media they can work with,” she said. “The concept of the Body Factory was to host an event without those restrictions. There was no theme today, giving painters complete creative freedom.”
All models were partially dressed, with men in briefs and women wearing thongs and cloth or silicone nipple shields to provide the optimum painting surface. I wandered the room, admiring entries and chatting to participants. Painter Liz Bycett had travelled from Kent to attend the event, and was painting a design based on a Chinese water dragon. “I’ve been painting for 22 years, and I do a lot of commercial work to clients’ briefs, so it’s nice to do something for myself for a change,” she said.
All had had six hours to create their design. Many appeared to be fans of fantasy gothic horror; there were evident references to the likes of Twilight and Xena Warrior Princess. Model Laurence had been painted orange with a big bloody slash across his chest, a machine gun in hand. I wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark night in Bodmin.
Jenny Marquis, from Cornwall, had spent weeks making her own prosthetics to produce Hellrider, aka model Matt Tibbles. Matt had some alarming metallic objects protruding from his face and body. Head and torso painted bright red and silver, I doubt that his mother would have recognised him. In fact, I doubt
he’d have recognised himself in a mirror. “He’s been attacked, he’s very angry and he’s out for revenge. This,” said Jenny, wielding a ninja-style knife, “will go in his back.” Nice. Outside, a Harley Davidson awaited to complete Jenny’s picture.
Hair extensions, false nails, glitter tattoos – seemingly, anything went. I would chat, move on, turn round and discover that a design had changed dramatically with the addition of a helmet, wings, brickwork, ridiculously high heels. It was quite surreal – in the corner, a 14th century warrior painted woad blue sat drinking a cup of milky tea.
Model Jimmy Monroe made a striking figure. Inspired by the jail itself, painter Zoe Thornbury Phillips, from Hertfordshire, had covered his arms and legs with zebra stripes to resemble a prison uniform, his chest became a keyhole peering through to lush landscapes. Upon his head, Jimmy wore a hat covered with keys; on his feet, staggeringly high heels (his own). “I thought they’d add a bit of height,” he said. For a chap already six foot tall and gangly, they certainly did. A male glamour model, Jimmy certainly knew how to strike a pose.
A peacock lady with the most detailed depiction of a bird on her back, her head adorned with feathers; and a Spanish flamenco dancer, top half painted to resemble a dress – from a distance, you would have thought it was real fabric.
It was time to judge, so I repaired upstairs with Nicola and fellow judge Michelle McCoon, lecturer in make-up at Truro College. With so much creativity on show, it was a tough job.
BodyFactory Body Painter of the Year was named as Cat Finlayson from Norfolk, who took her inspiration from the jail’s gruesome past by painting her model to represent the first woman to be hanged over an eight-foot drop in Bodmin Jail, complete with a rope painted around her neck. Impressive as it was, this was a little gruesome for my taste, truth be told; but it was well researched, and I was pleased to see a painter taking inspiration from the Cornish location. Nic and Michelle were both convinced of the detail involved. They were the experts, so I was happy to be outvoted.
Perhaps my favourite came second – Juliet Eve, from Hertfordshire, created a beautiful stained glass window design using glitter paint, complete with brickwork on the limbs and a design on the back taken on the day from the jail’s leaded windows (pictured below).
In third place were Zoe and Jimmy. We agonised a little over whether Jimmy’s presence detracted from the painting; then agreed that on the contrary, it enhanced it – the perfect synergy between model and painter.
As I returned home, models and painters toured the jail buildings for photo opportunities. Plans are already afoot for BodyFactory 2013 – I can’t wait.