Bodypainting as a practice goes right back to the dawn of culture. It is a decisive clue in piecing together the emerging habits of early humans that distinguish them from our primate predecessors, and when anthropologists aren’t announcing a new species of human because of a newly discovered molar, they are constantly getting flustered about the red stuff – red ochre. Thousands of years later, we are covering ourselves in paint once again, devoting festivals to the practice, and holding competitions for it … haven’t you heard? It’s only the World Bodypainting Festival, the annual event that brings thousands upon Seeboden in Southern Austria for three days of festive fun, intense competition, and the most elaborate and fine-combed bodypainting you have ever seen.
I caught up with Jessica Nurse, who has participated in the festival for two of its ten year life-span, and gain a little more insight into this craft that is a realm unto itself.
What’s the festival like?
It’s really incredible. The actual festival takes place by a lake, and for those three days, the town is completely transformed. They have statues all over the place of painted bodies, and there are separate tents for each country. The bodypainting awards are a big part of the festival, and have been a driving force behind the bodypainting movement. It gives artists a chance to get together, exchange ideas, and bring this amazing art form to the public eye.
What will you be participating in, and who’s the big competition?
There are different categories. I’l be competing in the ‘brush and sponge’ competition, so that’s all hand-done as opposed to air-brush effects. You have six hours to paint, and they give you a theme beforehand so its all about trying to come up with something that’s original. The Americans are good, like the Wolfe Brothers who always do really well, but Caroline Cooper won last year and she’s a brit! We’re good at something after all.
How did you get into bodypainting, and what do you like about it?
I graduated from University in fashion and editorial make-up design, and I work a lot as a freelance make-up artist, but this is just so much more creative. I feel like you can really push the boundaries, express stories, ideas, and moods, all through the body. I began bodypainting as a hobby when I was young, then once I started studying make-up we did some classes to improve skills and ideas. I heard about the Bodypainting competition in Austria when I was at college and it was always something I really wanted to go too.
Have you ever been painted?
Yes, I modeled for a friend once, but I didn’t like it! I think you have to be really comfortable with your body, but then once someone is painted you don’t really look at their body or see it as a naked body, you just look at the art. But no, I think the painting side of it is more for me!
Jessica is currently applying for funding from the Arts Council to take a team to Austria in July and we wish her the best of luck! She will be hosting an exhibition in March or April at the Maiyango Hotel in Leicester so keep your eyes peeled for roaming painted bodies.
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