Daisy Collingridge on her fleshy bodysuits of funny, endearing characters that celebrate the human body

Clive, a Portrait, 2019 © Daisy Collingridge

London-based artist Daisy Collingridge has quite an exciting venture. Aside from being an illustrator, she also creates and wears fleshy bodysuits of lovable characters, acting out their different personalities for the camera.

Lippy, Burt, Clive, Dave and Hillary are made of various blobs of fabric in pastel colours, all inspired by human anatomy and her own family. They follow on from a costume she made for the New Zealand-based design competition, World of Wearable Art, in 2016.

A graduate in fashion design from Central Saint Martins, Daisy's wearable artworks seem to challenge those boring body ideals with their appealing bulging boobs, ample folds of skin and quirky, squishy shapes. We chatted to Daisy about her characters, how she makes them, and where the inspiration comes from.

What initially drew you to textiles?

I have always worked with fabric since I was a child. It began with teddy bears and soft toys and has progressed to quilted dresses and giant free-standing sculptures. Fabric is tactile and relatable. It lends itself so beautifully to the human form, since, unlike stone or marble, it's soft and warm like skin and flesh. It is a much more approachable medium than most fine art materials, the barrier between the subject and the viewer is often shattered because the viewer is drawn to touch and feel.

You work mainly in 3D, what is it that you love about this?

That's a tricky one. Making is clearly an impulsive thing for me. I can draw. And do draw, but I rarely draw what I am going to make in 3D. I visualise in 3D, then dive straight in and build. It goes back to the tactile nature of textiles; it's the same thing with 3D sculpture. You can hold it, feel its weight and texture; a 3D object is much more tangible than 2D, which I find satisfying. I am fortunate to be still doing what makes me happy. I haven't stopped making since I started as a kid.

Clive Feels Like, 2018 © Daisy Collingridge. All images courtesy of Daisy Collingridge

Clive Feels Like, 2018 © Daisy Collingridge. All images courtesy of Daisy Collingridge

Floored (Burt), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge. Photography by Mark Sherratt

Floored (Burt), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge. Photography by Mark Sherratt

Burt as Part of the Furniture, Part 2, 2018 © Daisy Collingridge

Burt as Part of the Furniture, Part 2, 2018 © Daisy Collingridge

Dave Kneeler (Dave), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge

Dave Kneeler (Dave), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge

What are your influences? How has your childhood affected your work?

My work is the product of my childhood. I grew up in a family of doctors, nurses and scientists. The human body has always been a subject of fascination for me. I remember Mum taking me to see Body World, by Gunther von Hagens. It showed the human (and other animals) in all their biological, anatomical glory preserved by plastination. Combine these scientific dinner table conversations with a mum who can turn her hand to all the crafts: she can crochet, silk paint, dye, toy-make, quilt, embroider, and I am pretty sure she has done upholstery too. This combination of practicality and creativity seems to have irresistibly steered my work to what is. Not to mention the huge encouragement I have from my whole family.

Tell us more about the wearable pieces. They're now also a form of performance art, aren't they?

It was a natural progression from graduating from a fashion design course that I continued making wearables. They are designed with movement in mind. The 'bodies' have cut-outs in the armpits like ballet dancers costumes, and the 'legs' have a stretch gusset to allow for movement. The work has developed into a cross-disciplinary art. Their wearability opens up a whole new dimension to explore. The sculptures can be brought to life, in the same way, an animator brings their puppets to life. It also means the finished sculpture is not the only final product of my practice; there is a whole 4D realm to explore.

How many characters do you have now? Can you tell us more about them?

There are five. Lippy was the first, the prototype. Clive came next – he is the most cheerful with his pallid blue hues. Burt is the babe; he is my favourite. Burt has the grumpiest expression but also has the most sass. He has catfish-like barbells on his face. Then came Dave, Dave is special as he was made on request by my dad (Dave). And finally, there is Hillary. Hillary gets the boob scarf.

Lunge Again (Burt), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge. Photography by Mark Sherratt

Lunge Again (Burt), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge. Photography by Mark Sherratt

Dave, A Portrait, 2019 © Daisy Collingridge

Dave, A Portrait, 2019 © Daisy Collingridge

Pose (Clive), 2018 © Daisy Collingridge

Pose (Clive), 2018 © Daisy Collingridge

Burt Shows His Moves, 2018 © Daisy Collingridge

Burt Shows His Moves, 2018 © Daisy Collingridge

Do you dress up in these costumes only or do you get others involved?

I work predominately alone. Many of the photos are taken by me of me (inside). My dad requested a 'flesh suit' for himself, so I made Dave for Dave. My mum has also been known to become Burt for a while. The plan for 2020 is to get more people involved. The act of wearing one is quite liberating; I would like to explore how different people move. I will also be collaborating with some more photographers and video-makers as it's always interesting to see how others creatively respond and I want to delve further into the performance side.

How are they made? What are the materials and process? They must take some time.

It is a labour-intensive process. They are made in several pieces: headpiece, body/jacket/top/ trousers/dungarees and gloves. The fabric is hand-dyed, so I have full control over the colour palette. I make the head first as they will dictate the character. They made with a combination of filled "pockets" and pieced on sections shaped with wadding. It is all hand-stitched together. I don't work from a drawing but will be continually trying on the piece as I build it to check it looks right and moves well.

How have people reacted to your work?

The biggest compliment I get is, "I have never seen anything like this". Originality is what all artists strive for, which is increasingly difficult in a world so saturated with images. Reactions vary hugely: some people are revolted, others find them humorous or sweet. Burt, Hillary, Clive and Dave all have their own character. I love them.

Mixed Man, 2019 © Daisy Collingridge. Photography by Mark Sherratt

Mixed Man, 2019 © Daisy Collingridge. Photography by Mark Sherratt

Princess and the Pea (Hillary), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge

Princess and the Pea (Hillary), 2019 © Daisy Collingridge

Progress shot © Daisy Collingridge

Progress shot © Daisy Collingridge

Is it true you captured the attention of Bjork? What happened there?

Bjork is one of a kind, so consistently individual and original. What an inspiration to have such a fierce artistic vision that she has not been manipulated or squashed into neatly labelled boxes. I got an email from one of Bjork's people (who incidentally is a fabulous artist himself), and I presumed it was a scam (cynic that I am). After some cross-checking, I realised it was legit and soon met them both in London. I designed and made a yellow, free machine quilted dress inspired by my graduate collection. She wore it on stage in Lyon as part of the Vulnicura tour in 2015. What an honour.

I find them hilarious and very endearing. Are they also an attempt at challenging body ideals?

I am not seeking to promote or demote any one type of body. For me, they are a celebration of the human form with elements of fantasy. They are joyful.

Are the bodysuits just for you? Or do you plan to make them for others?

I have made one for my dad (Dave) on request. He wore Dave in an exhibition, and I saw a whole different side to my dad! I would also love to get some dancers involved as movement is an element I would like to explore more.

You're an illustrator as well, aren't you? Tell us more!

I have a small illustration company called DMC Illustrations. It is very different from my sculptural work. I don't draw people, only animals! There is a subtle, surreal thread linking the sculpture and drawing. Having two very contrasting creative practices keeps things fresh!

Can we expect any more characters in future? Are you working on one?

I am sure there will be more. There are lots of ideas running around in my brain.