His work, both as an individual and more recently with ExxEss, pushes the boundaries of our favourite medium by injecting colour, imagination and humour as well as incredible technical accomplishment into the mix.
His scene moniker, Castasta Charisma, was originally the name of his Second Life avatar. He credits that character with allowing him to explore power play and identity transformation — both elements that are present in his creations for stage and fetish events.
He recalls that, as a frustrated young child with a speech impediment, bondage — in the form of layered nylons and experimentation with his grandfather’s WWII gas mask — gave him calm.
“I was swaddled, peaceful and restful and focused, and in this state I would drift away into my imagination.”
Being a recognised artist from an early age formed part of his identity in the small mining community where he grew up.
“I learnt early on in life what it was like to be recognised by total strangers wherever I went,” he says. “Art was to become my public face. While it drew attention and possible scrutiny into my private affairs, it could also be used as a facade to screen my privacy.”
That was how Catasta Charisma coped with his fetish until he left for university, where he was able to experiment more with rubber. But it wasn’t until the age of 37, after his mother’s death, that he felt capable of coming out as a fetishist.
Up until this time he’d worked not just as an artist, but also as the co-owner, with his mum, of a country crafting store.
His responsibilities had involved the running of the business, his artwork, and representing crafters and knitting yarns. But after her death he had to take on the fabrics and sewing side that had been his mother’s role.
“I therefore began to learn to sew,” he explains. “Simple things to start with such as patchwork quilts, but gradually pushing myself more and more into dressmaking.
“I was so taken up by this venture that I dropped my painting to develop new skills, not knowing at the time where this would lead me.”
Where it eventually did lead him, in 2010, was to his first experiments in latex clothing design. Five years later he closed down his business of 18 years to devote more time to his work with latex, and subsequently to creating his latex guides — the second of which has just been published.
The Compendium of Rubber Garment Making is an ambitious 668-page tome dedicated to designing, drafting and crafting latex clothing.
Currently available only in PDF format, it follows 2017’s The Hood (below), an exhaustive 200-page guide to drafting and constructing latex hoods, available both in print and PDF versions.
DEBUT: The Hood, 2017, was Catasta Charisma’s first venture into latex manual-writing
The hood manual came about after Heath started selling hood patterns through his Etsy store and more customers began requesting made-to-measure patterns. At that point, he says:
“I thought it easier to produce a manual with the instructions for doing so, and also, as hoods can be quite complex, it was a tester for me to see how clearly I could describe the whole process of rubber garment making.”
And that, he adds, meant covering everything from taking measurements and choosing the right gauge of rubber for individual preference, to the making, adornment, adaptation and embellishment of the piece.
Looking at photos in both of the manuals and online, it floored me when I realised that Heath has only been doing latex work for eight years.
But he reasons that a lot of the training was already done, as he had been a visual artist for decades and had run his own craft shop where he made his own clothing.
Plus, he explains, “I had been making things in lots of different ways since a child. And whether one is making a stained glass window, a mosaic tiled floor, a ceramic pot, an etching, a cuddly toy, a painting, etc they all follow similar processes in getting from an imagined idea to the real thing.
“I have the kind of mind that can jump from one type of craft to another without ever having tried it before,” he claims.
He says he can do this knowing that it will share many principles of construction with other crafts, and that most of the time “I just need to familiarise myself with handling new equipment and coming to learn about the limitations of any materials”.
The very first Catasta Charisma rubber project in 2010 was a giant dickie bow for a Mad Hatter outfit he wore to a Skin Two North party in Leeds that year.
In the early days, however, he was mostly making adaptations and embellishments to other companies’ products, such as adding rubber teats to an HW-Design hood (see Transparent image in gallery below).
Between 2011 and 2013 the artist began to design a lot more, but was getting other companies to make the garments up for him. And then finally in 2014, he decided to put all his crafting knowledge and experience to good use, and to start making his own fully-formed outfits.
So after returning from the 2015 Montreal Fetish Weekend (where he first encountered ExxEss Latex), Heath decided to sell the shop business and build himself a studio from the proceeds, to facilitate both his own projects and his budding involvement with ExxEss.
“In other words what I decided to do for my first outfit was to attempt a variety of projects that required me to explore lots of different skill sets.”
Heath learned the fundamentals by browsing the popular Making Latex Clothing group on Fetlife.
“Perusing the various threads, one can find a lot of information. Thankfully I didn’t need a great deal of equipment as at that time as I still owned a patchwork fabric store and so I probably had more equipment than most people could ever dream of.
“The latex group gave me the heads-up about such things as rubber curling when glue is applied, and how to incorporate a zipper. I learnt by my own mistakes.
“But then I don’t believe we ever make mistakes — we just discover that certain results come about through certain approaches and while the result may not be what we desire at the time it shouldn’t be dismissed or ever thought of as a failure as it may be a result we desire in the future.”
In his introduction to The Hood, Catasta Charisma elaborates on his experiments and the learning process, and what ultimately became the source material for his guides.
“For the first time in 25 years of wearing rubber I was beginning to question what the material was, what its properties were, what its character was about… and I was looking closer at how things were made.
“I went on some very steep learning curves, so steep at times I really did feel I might come tumbling down.
“As any of you might know, when it comes to making garments out of rubber, trying to find any literature to help guide you on the way is almost impossible and when you do it tends to be lacking.
“Most literature is as fundamentally basic as a craft book on how to make a snowman out of polystyrene balls. Thank you but no thanks. So I taught myself.
“I went back to the beginning and reverse-engineered old conventionally sewn garments to see how they had been cut and put together then remade them, but in rubber.
“I then studied how stretch garments are made with knitted and elasticated fabrics, how the fabric is cut differently and how reductions to measurements are applied.
“I then studied how to design my own garments and to draft their patterns. This last study was my steepest curve as everything was a foreign language.
“In the end I studied conventional garment making and experimented in how I could reconfigure what I was learning for the purpose of using rubber, for five solid years. I learnt from the internet and from books and I learnt by doing and making many, many mistakes.”
As he went down this road of exploration, Heath would write notes “as a way of sounding out my own thoughts, that I had understood things correctly”.
It was also a place where he could theorise and “put theory to practice the next day, discover my theories were completely wrong and revise everything”.
About a thousand pages of writing later he had come to understand a lot about how two-dimensional scraps of fabric could be shaped into three-dimensional forms that would fit the body.
But one particular garment, the hood, was always elusive.
“I had made hoods. I’d had my head wrapped in tape on which seams were then drawn, the sections cut up and the tape peeled off my head to leave me with templates.
“But I didn’t have a real concept of how to make such templates through drawing them from bodily measurements. Eventually, however, things began to click.
“The more things I made, the more I wrote about how the things were made, and the clearer things became. Out of all this came the hood book.”
And now, we have the second Catasta Charisma book, of much greater scope, to consider. You will find my review of The Compendium of Rubber Garment Making on page 2 of this article.
I have to confess that I enjoyed the tone and the explanations in the Compendium so much that I wondered if we could ever look forward to a workshop or university degree course from Heath. It would be a course I’d quite like to enroll in.
It turns out that he used to teach visual art (painting, life drawing, still life) in colleges and universities around Nottinghamshire 20-plus years ago.
He says he “probably wouldn’t want to go back and become too involved again in that field”. However, there’s hope for workshops, as he explains:
“From time to time I have taught workshops on rubber garment making, taking people through the steps from measurements to patterns to making the garment.
“I tend to keep these to around two people at a time and what is made is never specified by myself but by the people attending — so if someone wanted to make some rubber jeans, then I’d show them how.
“Some folk who attend the workshops want to lean certain techniques such as how to paint on rubber, and I’ve even done this at Rubber Cult in London, with a bunch of us all playing around painting with latex while simultaneously dressed in rubber!
“Lincoln University invited me to give a talk about the uses and history of rubber which was huge fun. There is a great deal of interest in the material as an expressive medium.
“I do hope to do more one-on-one kinds of workshop in the future and hopefully at some point next year redesign the space in the studio to make it more accommodating.”
Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the work Catasta Charisma has done with ExxEss Latex that has propelled him into the international spotlight in recent years, you don’t have long to wait.
We’re shortly publishing a companion piece to this article, which will present a Q&A with Catasta about his involvement with ExxEss. It will be linked from this article as soon as it goes live.READ MORE QUICK LINK:
BELOW: Catasta Charisma selection 2013-18 – click any image in browser to start full-size slideshow
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