When Mem Bourke launched an arts competition for makeup and special effects artists, the Glenfield Tavern was the only place she could find to hold it.

Bourke, an African tour guide turned event management specialist and classical homeopath, says back in the early 2000s the opportunities for makeup artists to show off their work were almost non-existent and, anyway, no one really knew what body art was.

There'd been a bit of a fuss in the early 1990s when New Zealand make-up artist Joanne Gair painted film star Demi Moore for the cover of Vanity Fair, but other than that what could be achieved with a little paint, and maybe a prosthetic, was unknown in our part of the world.

But when Bourke became aware of a burgeoning international scene, she liked what she saw.


"When I saw it, I instantly fell in love with it because it's such an extreme art," she recalls. "The whole idea of being painted and becoming a different character or being able to help someone change into something new…"

So, she started at Glenfield Tavern with the aim of having other competitions, possibly at pubs, in the south, east and west of Auckland culminating in a "grand final" in the central city. Artists — and she discovered there were a lot of them — encouraged Bourke to look for what they considered to be more appropriate venues, so she put in applications to the former North Shore City Council.

By then, the country was gripped by Lord of the Rings film fever and waking up to the power of special effects including makeup. In 2006, Bourke got the green light to use the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna and remembers queues snaking down surrounding streets with punters eagerly waiting to get a look at body art.

This year, the New Zealand Body Art Award Showcase marks its 10th production, featuring the work of artists who want to pursue careers in makeup and special effects or those who are already well established. The Water Element is the theme for the 2018 showcase, with entrants from all over NZ competing in six main categories: water, pollution, floating, submerged, destroyed and resource.

Judges include Weta Workshop's Sir Richard Taylor, who's been a fan of the event since he first learned about it back in 2006.

"It's what we do for a living," says Sir Richard. "We're a creative design and manufacturing studio and special effects are one of the foundations of that and my career. It's imperative that, as a company, we support these endeavours."

He says standards have been high since the competition's inception and, as artists see more body art and get to hone their work, it gets better every year.

"The work that's done here is as a good as anywhere in the world with the added bonus that artists are drawing on their Pacific place in the world that others aren't referencing so it makes for some unique and very beautiful creations."


The trick, says Sir Richard and fellow judge Jonathan Smith, is to create designs, using bodies as canvases that can be seen and marvelled at by audiences sitting in the back row of an auditorium. Sometimes intricate brushstrokes and clever close-up work aren't going to work.

Don't be fooled into thinking because everything goes well on the night that it's an easy art form to pursue, says showcase producer and artistic director Poata Eruera. He's witnessed, backstage, the hours and hours of work that go into each intricate design.

"It's not just a case of painting a moustache on a model," says Eruera.

That's exactly what some of the artists involved indicated when they told Weekend about the inspiration behind some of their previous work.

Lepiota created by Juliet Bradford and inspired by forest fungi. Photo/Gino Demeer
Lepiota created by Juliet Bradford and inspired by forest fungi. Photo/Gino Demeer

Juliet Bradford, Australian artist and creator of Lepiota:

"My piece was inspired by the fungi growing deep in the dark forest. She is the keeper of all your fearful stories; a creature part-tree and part-fungus. It took months of preparation, making the tree, casting and sculpting. The most challenging aspect of doing special FX in another country is having it all fit the model when you arrive! I have loved coming to New Zealand and competing with amazing artists. The showcase is such a well-run event that nurtures and challenges."

Madam Hoop, created by Louisa Paterson. Photo/Gino Demeer
Madam Hoop, created by Louisa Paterson. Photo/Gino Demeer

Louisa Paterson, creator of Madam Hoop:

"My inspiration came from the amazing Cirque Soleil stage show. I love creating quirky characters and I wanted to create a character who was flirty and playful. I can't recall how long the costume prep work took, in regards to creating a wig and styling it and also making the hoop skirt, collar and headpiece. The body paint took the duration of the body paint competition which, I think, is roughly six to eight hours. The most challenging part was symmetry. As the body isn't the same in each side I spent a lot of time trying to get my painted design symmetrical and balanced on the model."

Kellie MacAlpine works on her Enchanted Castle Guardian at last year's NZ Body Art Awards. Photo/Dean Purcell
Kellie MacAlpine works on her Enchanted Castle Guardian at last year's NZ Body Art Awards. Photo/Dean Purcell

Kellie MacAlpine, 2017 winner for Best Enchanted Castle:

"I was inspired to create a guardian for an enchanted castle, someone who morphed between a majestic beauty with an ethereal presence and a strong and powerful force when the castle was threatened. I was aiming to try something new and push outside of my comfort zone with techniques I hadn't used. We had five hours to create the body artwork and the most challenging part of the process was knowing what to pack in the suitcase to fly over with!"

What: New Zealand Body Art Awards Showcase
Where & when: Rangatira at Q Theatre, Saturday, September 1