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After Hurtwood: Bodypaint Artist Extraordinaire, Pixie Lawrie

Are you sitting comfortably? Be prepared to be seriously impressed by yet another of Hurtwood’s amazingly talented students, an artist of the body, but not, I suspect, as you might be thinking. Take a look at her work on Instagram and you WILL be drawn in. That’s a statement!

Our own inborn fascination with the human form clearly starts the process, but the sheer variety, challenge to expectation, imaginative and artistic challenges on show here, as well as the beauty, will keep you scrolling. Phew.

So, I heard about Pixie from other ex-students and teachers, and the concept of art on the body was an instant draw. She generously responded to my request for a catch up on her onward journey from Hurtwood, saying that she would love to be part of the ‘cool little project’. She left the school in 2002 to study Media and Film at Bournemouth with a wonderful portfolio of Theatre, Art, Media and Maths. Making the assumption that she would never be able to make a living from her passion for fine art she pursued an onward career in the film industry, working as an art director.

‘There are lots of egos in the film world, and the hours are eye-watering”, she recalls without much enthusiasm. But she made her way steadily. Six years later she took a sabbatical and made a bid for freedom in the snowy slopes of the French Alps,

‘to hit the reset button,’ as she puts it. Snowboarding clearly started the process, but she describes a kind of nagging, a desire to get back to painting, and this is precisely what she did, but this time on the skin. Painting faces at first, and making it pay by setting herself up in the corner of mountain bars amongst the skiers. To the bemusement of the bar owner, she began to earn money from what was and is clearly an extraordinary talent.

She returned to the UK and continued to work in film within art departments, while the drive to paint bodies and faces gained momentum. ‘I couldn’t shake it off,’ she tells me, ‘the addiction grew.’ The problem was, there was no clear industry for body paint at the time. ‘I soon realised, even though I could see the clear potential for body paint, it was up to me to propagate these ideas myself.’

The first line of approach was the festival scene, which understandably has its own limitations (painting people outside in a field in British weather, being an obvious one). She soon began to market her skills more widely to the events industry and individual clients. Innately modest on one level, it is clear to me that her incredible talent began to speak for itself. ‘The visually impressive medium,’ as she calls it,’ of body, paint and imagination truly did create new possibilities. Take a look again at her Instagram site and let your jaw drop. People now began coming to her, and she gets most of her bookings through word of mouth. Drawn back to the mountains, this time in Austria, she hit the Mecca for body artists, the’ World Body Paint Festival’ in Klagenfurt, and began to win awards. The rest is, well, history - in the sense that Pixie Lawrie really does seem to have created her own extraordinary niche of creative brilliance, and seems to me to be doing exactly what she loves doing.

What has become clear to me is that in spite of her understatement, Pixie is very much a true artist. Wise enough to know that much of her work is of the ‘bread and butter’, ‘pay the way’ kind, she falls back again and again on the fact that she can’t stop painting, that it is her drive, and ‘that creative gremlin just won’t quieten.’ I ask her to identify her proudest achievement and she is genuinely stumped by the question. Why? ‘Because the very best I can ever achieve is only about 70% of my vision.’ ‘Wow’, I think while flicking through her portfolio: ‘What on earth could that elevated end product be?’. I wonder later about the impermanence of her art, although we did touch on the possibilities and implications of capturing the 3D image in 2D form.

As you see, catching up with Pixie was fascinating and wonderfully madcap at the same time. I pursue her sense of pride in her achievement, and she says that she does take pleasure in thinking about all those years of patronizing ‘pitiful head tilts’, from ‘all those people along the way who said it wouldn’t work.’ It could not be clearer that it has worked, and once again I am speaking to a wonderfully fulfilled worker.

So, time to get on with the world, but still time to share some Hurtwood memories, especially as she has throughout our chat expressed such affection for the place. ‘It’s basically Hogwarts for the arts,’ she declares, and ‘so unlike any other experience that it upstages university.’ Growing up in the South of France, she encountered the school via an advert in an old newspaper, and was determined to get herself over to see the place. It was love at first sight. ‘Why?’, I ask. ‘It’s wonderfully mad,’ she declares, ‘it’s full of creative people and you inevitably share in the mutual enthusiasm of your peers. It’s infectious.’

She recalls standing in the lunch queue and suddenly there is three-part harmony singing going on, whilst at the same time some boy is moonwalking past. I can’t say I remember the singing because it is part of the everyday ethos of the place, but we both enjoy identifying Charlie Morton as the mover. ‘Where are you now, Charlie?’, we both ask!

So, thank you Pixie – for your enthusiasm and your generous sharing of practice. Yet again it is clear that the encouragement and creative nurturing of passions is the best route to enjoying the working world; hard graft and belief can make it happen. Pixie’s career has indeed proved, in her words, to be ‘random and self-created’. Bring it on, I say.


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