Think beards, and you may automatically bring to mind a checked shirt bedecked chap with perfectly trimmed and oiled beard, perhaps pouring you a coffee from a suitably hipster conical flask.

Or if you’re me, you might recall a junior school teacher who smelt of pipe tobacco and had more hair upon his chin than his head.

Whatever springs to mind, Bearded Brutes, Mark Leeming’s exhibition at HOME, challenges that perception and our perception of beauty, masculinity and, of course, beards.

Bearded Brutes features an array of stunningly vivid portraits taking the beard to a whole new level. Bearded gents are transformed with clothing, make-up and, most importantly, glitter into gloriously exotic characters by Mark, who acted as photographer, make-up artist, director and stylist.

After much to-ing and fro-ing over diaries – unsurprisingly he’s a busy chap – we tracked Mark down to chat about the exhibition and the story behind it.

Why Bearded Brutes?

There was no initial thought process when it came to producing the Brutes.  It was something that had very small beginnings and kind of snowballed and grew organically really.  I wanted to get back into shooting some portraiture which is one of my favourite forms of photography but had been busy with other projects so it had become somewhat neglected.

The glitter beard craze had begun a kind or revival (notably created by the Cockettes in the 70’s) last year before Christmas.  Images of men adorned with glittered bodies and beards started filtering through the web.  This caught my eye and I thought lets do some glitter filled portraits!  I asked a few friends if they would pose for me, aiming to do around 3-4 to satisfy my hunger and curiosity.  I then got inundated with texts, emails, phone calls from other friends asking me to create a Brute out of them.  It now stands at a staggering 24 – something I never thought would happen.

The brutes is about being non-conformist to sexual representations that society feels the need to label us also. It’s about being label-free no matter what your gender or preference.  This is celebrated through the art blurring the boundaries of masculine vs femme.

How did you find the models? Were all of them volunteers, or did you have to twist an arm or two?

Around 90% of them were forthcoming to me.  I had to sweet talk one Brute for about a month!  He had never donned any make-up or glitter and felt a little out of his comfort zone.  I think one of the misconceptions with the Brutes is that they are all professional drags or performers.  They’re not.  And that is what I love about it.  They are predominantly just guys that want to be a part of something fabulous.  A piece of lasting art and I love their passion for this project.  They really did deliver every time.

Do you have a favourite?

No! Can you imagine the backlash I would get off these guys?!  I love each and every one of them individually.  They all have their stories behind them and I can remember all the conversations we had whilst doing them.  Such fun.  Most way too highbrow to publish here.

Any plans for any more?

For now the glitter pots are under lock and key in a trunk in a warehouse somewhere off the isle of Peru.  I feel that for now the family is complete.  I’d never say never though and I would love to collaborate with a charity and do something to raise awareness for a good cause.  I think that giving something back is always rewarding and if you can make art and it have a purpose beyond entertaining then its a big bonus.

Any plans for any bearded ladies? 

That’s not the first time I have been asked that question.  My girlfriends have been asking me to involve them for a while now.  There have been ideas put to me of glitter brows, hairlines, cheeks, lips even bums!  There are currently no plans for a bearded lady collection.  What I will say though is there may be something in the Bearded Brutes advent calendar which is exclusively available to buy at HOME Mcr.  That’s all I can say.  My lips are sealed.

What’s next? More beards or something totally different?

No more beards for now.  I have something in the pipeline but its a big undertaking and would probably take over a year to do too.  It’s fab though and would look amazing.  I am also developing my first short film which will hopefully start shooting summer next year.  I have always wanted to make this film and now the timing seems right.  And there is the Bearded Brutes coffee table book too.  That’s in the background. I just need to find funding to go to print.  If I get bored of these projects there’s always the warehouse full of glitter in Peru!

The exhibition is on at HOME until 22 January 2017.

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