A creative rite of passage in the Cotswolds

Every two years on a Sunday in July, in the depths of the Cotswolds countryside, wild things happen. Though the pretty streets of a Cotswold village, near-naked men and women, girls and ….well, actually no boys that we could see, parade around the village to a stage rigged up in a churchyard, pitched among the gravestones of long-forgotten village residents.

This isn’t some weird cultist ritual, but a glorious celebration of colour, confusion and wearable art.

Don’t call it fashion. This is using the body as a canvas for creativity. And bodies there were, on Sunday 18 July in Painswick, Gloucestershire. Gloriously big bodies, tall bodies, short bodies, some bodies you wanted to squidge as they passed by between the street food stalls, stalls selling gin, fur rugs, weird home-madey things, either ridiculously underpriced for the work that had gone into them, or overpriced. The models wore just paint, or tin cans, twigs, LED lights, chiffon – whatever came to the minds of the designers who entered their gorgeous creations to celebrate this year’s festival themes: ‘Food for Thought’ for the body art, ‘Graffiti’ for the headwear and the Wearable Art themes were ‘flight’, ‘underwater’ and ‘moving parts’.


Art Couture Painswick, now in its sixth festival, inspires extraordinary wearable art and engages the community to create life-changing opportunities for aspiring artists. It’s a registered charity, run by a group of amazingly enthusiastic, energetic volunteers supported by local businesses and individuals and generates a spirit of community in the area.


It’s a brilliant way to celebrate creativity. Too often imagination is overlooked as being superfluous to every day life, but at Rock the Cotswolds we say imagination drives innovation and enhances life. Once every couple of years, for one day only, Art Couture Painswick exemplifies everything that makes the Cotswolds the most perfect place to live and work. For the winners of the competitions, there are serious bursaries and opportunities for successful careers, for those who don’t win this time around, there’s the satisfaction of showcasing their talent to the hundreds of people there on the day.


And for the few who fret about people walking over, sitting or dancing on the ancient gravestones, I say – only bones lie below, the spirits of the departed are more likely to be soaring about, enjoying the show and the celebrations. You can dance on my grave any day – and I hope I end up in Painswick churchyard.


Read their story for yourselves. Photographs by Rosanna Thorn-Lees and Michelle Ryan-James.


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