Tonight I’m at the Royal Pavilion for a Drawing Circus event. It’s early evening and the doors of the Pavilion are open and the hallway lit. This historic palace is a place of decadence. Expertise and craft is evident in every corner of the walls, floors and furniture. It’s a place that celebrates spectacle, and there is nowhere else quite like it. Built in the Regency era of a flamboyant prince, it’s how Brighton got its name as a party place, but it is also a place of imagination and an insight into an early 19th-century mind, one where money was no object and distant, exotic cultures epitomised sophistication.
While the iconic Taj Mahal inspired the exteriors of the Pavilion, when you enter through the hallway you can see the inspiration turns to Chinese-influenced wallpaper and stairwells. Dragons and phoenixes (or perhaps they are peacocks) hover across the ceiling of the banqueting hall.
The relatively small size of the Royal Pavilion means you always come close to its decorative surfaces, floors and hand-painted wallpaper. It’s an ideal venue for a bunch of drawing enthusiasts to find inspiration, and tonight for The Drawing Circus they are all very welcome. The usually empty music room is laid out with chairs and we collect our materials for the evening’s draw. Everything feels seamlessly organised. I spoke to Jake Spicer, head tutor at Draw Brighton and part of the Drawing Circus collective, who told me it was a special evening for the team – this being their 100th event, the evening had taken some time and a lot of planning and negotiation with Brighton Museums. Ordinarily, The Drawing Circus events take place at the Old Market theatre; these are informal nights with a creative buzz and a variety of poses. It’s definitely a Brighton kind of night out. But tonight at the Pavilion felt much more grandiose.
The Drawing Circus is comprised of not just models but set-designers, photographers, artists and prop makers. There’s a distinct element of theatre to the event. Each is themed and inspiration is as wide-ranging as Norse Mythology, Hindu Deities and Joan of Arc. It’s a fantastic asset for Brighton and helps build and support an influential creative scene.
Anyway, to the drawing. The models pose in traditional looking costumes, looking towards the early nineteenth century for inspiration. There corsets and bustles but with a twist, there are clowns, tigers, whips and feathers, tonnes of lace and hold ups. It hints at the debauched past, which is of course not present in the empty rooms and conserved wallpaper. Halfway through the evening we move to the Banquet Hall for a glass of wine. It’s a heady experience; a swirl of colour and a collage of influences. The chandeliers glitter, lighting the ornate, highly-decorated curved walls and the dining table, which is cordoned off and set up for dinner and for guests who will never arrive.
We return to the Music Hall. One other aspect that makes tonight special is that we have live music. The musicians play an array of tunes, opening and closing the event with tracks from (my favourite) Amelie soundtrack. There was singing, solo pieces and tracks included Bon Iver’s Skinny Love. There were classical arrangements and folk-inspired tunes which echoed through the music room. It really was a very special event – and I hope it’s not the last.
Future Drawing Circus events are listed here.