Heads, shoulders, knees and toes; artist Jamie McCartney has cast them all, and a fair few breasts, chests and private parts too.
As the proud owner of Brighton Bodycasting, he leads the roll-call of the city’s many niche businesses. Much of his working week is spent covering naked people in plaster of Paris. His most frequent requests are “adults holding hands; boobs and torsos” but he’s cast expectant mothers, newborn babies and at the other end of the spectrum, death masks.
McCartney cast his father’s face when he died and has also cast the hands of a baby and a mother who had passed away.
“It’s almost a cradle to grave service,” he says.
“The death pieces are a bit grim but if someone asks, I feel it’s a service. It’s one thing I can do and if it means a lot to a person then I feel I really ought to.” Since opening the shop several years ago, the “recovering Londoner” has become the country’s most sought-after bodycasting artist.
“I consider myself a pioneer in the field – I certainly don’t have any competition in Britain. Just as cameras brought portraiture to the masses by doing away with the need for an artist to sit there for days, so bodycasting has done away with the need for a sculptor. It’s made 3D portraiture accessible to everyone.”
In an age when we’ve never been more obsessed with our own image – “You only have to look at the name Facebook”– McCartney rarely finds himself out of work.
It’s not bad for a business that began in a garden shed.
His latest project is a little different. He was commissioned to make a giant pair of striped legs for the new Duke’s @ Komedia, a companion for the iconic Duke of York’s cinema at Preston Circus.
The Duke of York’s legs weren’t modelled from life – “Although I got someone to come and lie about the studio in a pair of striped tights” – but that hasn’t stopped a number of women trying to claim free cinema tickets by claiming that they were the model. “People in Brighton will do anything for a blag won’t they?”
The project harked back to McCartney’s original career in film. “We did some massive things for that including blowing up a train on the Bluebell Railway for Charlotte Gray.”
It was in film McCartney first got a taste for bodycasting.
“You’d make corpses or body parts for scenes – maybe a harness to fit under someone’s clothes when they were on a wire.
“My friends were always really interested in it and I came to realise there might be a wider market for it.
“I started doing it in my garden shed and then when I moved to Brighton, took the plunge and opened Brighton Bodycasting.”
McCartney left the film world after working on Casino Royale.
The bodycasting now funds his fine art work. He became world famous for his Wall Of Vagina project, in which he cast the nether regions of dozens of women.
The installation has just gone on display at the Sex And Design exhibition in Milan, albeit with an 18 rating – “This is a Roman Catholic country!” says McCartney.
He didn’t intend the Wall to become as big a project as it did.
“I spent a year collecting 40 casts and it just wasn’t big enough. It grew and grew until it finally had the visual impact I wanted.
“The reasons women did it were so varied. Some were just in it for the giggles but others were using it as a means to deal with some serious body issues.”
He went on to collect all the personal stories in a book to accompany the exhibition.
That was a few years ago now but there’s always “something brewing” in McCartney’s studios in the narrow alley of Ship Street Gardens.
“I’m working on some big projects from photographic stuff to collecting sand from every country in the world and my message-in-a-bottle project I started a few years go. Two bottles have just come back!
“My degree was in experimental studio art so I like to push things, make things that are different. I’m particularly interested in projects that involve collaborating with strangers.”
Well, he adds, it beats working. “That’s what I tell people. But none of it makes money. People assume I’m really well off – I’m a starving artist!
“But that’s the great thing about Brighton. It’s a good place to be one. Where else could you open a bodycasting shop? I don’t think it would work anywhere else.
“It’s the one town that’s tolerant and silly enough for this sort of thing to work.”
For more information on Jamie McCartney and his work visit www.jamiemccartney.com