We’re back with our September monthly maker, and this month we caught up with Marilynn Baby, Artist and North Docks resident. Marilynn is a cast artist focussing mostly on body casting as well as some performance art, but I’ll let you hear more about it from them. Read about some of the interesting things Marilynn has cast and created below.
Hey Marilynn, can you start off by telling us about your art and what you do?
My art is more of a collection than anything. I’m a body castor and kind of just like collecting people. I’m addicted to human behaviour, how people look and work. My art is fulfilling that indulgence. When I came across body casting years ago, it was relatively new to the UK. There were only two or three artists in the country at the time that did it. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to do it. Casting lets you take a copy of a person.
What materials do you use for casting?
I use alginate. It’s like a cold pink slime that you mix with cold water and pour straight onto whatever you are casting. It’s like jumping into a swimming pool. The mixture is really cold for about 30 seconds, but then your body temperature warms it up. Once that sets, after about two minutes, you apply a few layers of plaster bandage to make a shell, and then the whole layer just pops off. I always recommend that people shave before a cast because if there is a lot of hair in the area, it would get tangled in the mould and may even pull out.
I use Modroc for my work because it lasts about 80/90 years. I’ve seen a paper mache table that was 110 years old. It’s also affordable and eco-friendly.
I used to do a lot of freehand sculpting and even used to make masks out of clay. I once sculpted a big pair of hands out of wood too. If I had some more free time I would love to give freehand sculpting a go again.
How long does the process take?
If I’m casting a bum, the casting takes about 20 minutes, then I fill the plaster copy. I clean and shape the plaster copy and then take a latex mould of it. Then pop out copies with the latex mould. So it takes a couple of hours to make the mould and a couple of hours to fill it up and make copies. So the process takes about a day for each cast from start to product on the shelf. It’s actually a quick process.
How did you get started in art and casting?
I started off in college years ago, I joined an intro to art course, but I only lasted two weeks. I like the chaotic and more extreme side of art, and my art tutor didn’t want me to do any of that in college. 10 years ago, at least for me, studying art felt very much that you had to follow the guidelines and follow what you’re taught. So instead, I found artists based around the UK, I emailed about a hundred of them, and about four got back to me. I asked if I could volunteer with them in the studio to learn some bits. I went to Manchester to learn some body casting, which is how I learnt the basics. A lot of my work is made out of paper mache, so I went to Hull to work with a paper mache artist called Nicky Clasey and volunteered with her for a few days. I travelled all over the country to work with different artists.
After that, I spent two years just practising. I put an advert on gumtree asking for volunteers to practice casting on. There was definitely a few unusual responses from that. But I found a couple who did life drawing and got in touch with them to ask if I could do some body casting on them. I cast their legs, their arms, and one of their bums. At the time, I was so embarrassed. But over the last five years, I’ve cast everything if you can imagine it, I’ve cast it. The casting picks up so many fine details, sometimes you can see the fingerprint on the hand casts, and I’ve even had tattoos come out on them too.
Have you always been creative?
I’ve always been creative and have been doing creative stuff since I was about 5, but I started body casting about 5 years ago. Before that, I was a decorator for around 12 years, which there can be some detail involved in. When I was a kid, I collected the Warhammer figures, which is maybe where I learnt fine details.
Do you paint the casts that you make?
I’ve tried different types of painting techniques, it’s something I’ve been experimenting a lot with. But I’m just going to go back to the basics of a simple blackwash to bring out the details. I think it’s better to be good at one thing than try to be good at everything. I’ve realised I’m okay at painting but I’m better at the sculpting side. Some of the techniques I’ll keep but the bulk of my work I’ll keep standard.
Do you ever add anything to the casts?
All sorts. I’ve started making characteristic pieces. I took a cast of a person’s bust and head and they were wearing a gas mask. It was actually easier than casting a normal face because they could breathe through the gas mask. I’ve been working on that cast for a few months. I’ve taken casts of peoples mouths, teeth, hands, fingers, and added that to the bust sculpture. The chest has lots of mouths attached to it with tongues coming out. I’ve cast lots of hands to add around the bust like a frame. Recently I have started experimenting with more surreal, abstract work.
Do you have any artist inspirations?
For years I loved pop art. I love Salvador Dali’s chaotic side of things. I was more impressed with his personal life story than his artwork.
Recently I’ve been really interested in Leigh Bowery, he did a lot of drag and performance art in the 80’s. I get involved in anyone who creates really extreme work, and Leigh Bowery’s was. I love to see people push boundaries. Leigh Bowery’s work is still being referenced today. He did a performance where he ‘gave birth’ to his wife on stage. The performance was actually referenced in a lady gaga video, I think it was Born This Way. See video here.
What would your advice be for anyone who wants to work for themselves?
Be fearless. If you’re doing something new that people have never seen before, it might be rejected at first. People will be scared or won’t appreciate it until it’s successful. Also, never care about anyone’s opinion.
I think it’s important to explore whatever you’re doing. You’ve got to just jump right off the cliff (metaphorically of course). The best thing you’ll make in life are mistakes, mistakes are development. We live in a culture where we try to avoid mistakes, but the less mistakes you’re making the less developing you’re doing. Mistakes will teach you what works and what doesn’t. I like to make as many as possible to keep progressing.
In terms of pricing your work it’s all trial and error. I don’t think anyone actually sells anything as graphic as my work, which means a lot of shops or websites won’t stock it.
What are you working on next?
I’m going to spend the next 6 months building my brand and promoting my work, and hopefully experimenting with a few new things.
After Bumfest* I’ve got a surplus of bums left over so I would love to do a Bumfest 2 and 3. People who volunteered to get their bums cast for the exhibition also asked to get other body parts cast. So instead of ending up with just 20 bums I ended up with 40 casts. So early next year I could do a torso exhibition.
One day I would love to have a gallery filled with lots of cast body parts.
I’ve also been doing some contemporary performance art mixed with drag and other art forms. I’ve got YouTube videos and Tik Toks coming in September. There will be a mix of expressive contemporary art and just daft comedy videos.
*An exhibition of Marilynn’s bum casts at Make North Docks that took place on Friday 10th September
What’s it like having a studio at Make?
I’ve been at Make for about 8 months now. I’ve met so many different people here. It’s great to see all of the different things people do. One of my studio neighbours makes laser cut jewellery and I’d love to have some jewellery made by her. There’s definitely a few residents I would like to collaborate with. One amazing thing I like is the central heating, it dries my work so quickly because I work mostly with paper mache which is great. It made my turn around go from two and a half weeks to 7 or 8 days.
Where can people find your products and services?
You can follow me on Instagram, @marilynnbaby and you can find my work over on Etsy.