The time has to be up – it feels like five minutes already! My leg starts to shake as I start sweating. Feeling the drips of sweat glide across my back, man, I really am missing those timers. I start thinking back to the time when I was modelling at the art schools in New York. There was always someone with their eye on the clock whilst I was posing – when it was time to move on there was no messing around. Through my experience here in England, people are a little more liberal; we agree timings but I know that oftentimes I’m just going to be waiting until someone realises they want tea and biscuits again!
I knew it would take me a little time to re-acclimatise myself to the idiosyncrasies of life here and at certain times I even questioned my reasoning in coming back here at all. As soon as I started modelling again those concerns began to fade. I was received with open arms and wide smiles by old friends and acquaintances from the art schools of Oxford and London and I tried to harness that positive energy, as well as all that I had learned in my time in New York, to create inspiring poses and a great atmosphere.
But I’m still holding in this pose which was suppose to be five minutes… Is it tea time yet?
The city never sleeps at night.
Blood and bodies form, I watch their intermittent movements through a kinetoscope as they start to surround me, beckoning me down towards their inferno. Reconciling within the coexistence as I start to hear many different languages that I do not speak.
To be or to not to be, you are who you are.
My appetite has been spoiled as I hunt through the gritty and dusty hazard areas. Inhaling the city’s gusts causes me to frequently blow residue out of my nose as if I am recovering from a ghastly reaction. The underworld labyrinth filled with roaring noises of performers, hustlers, and eagerly distressed beggars.
I found shelter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
I become indisposed, unwilling to engage with the banal conversations around me. Camouflaged reptiles start to shed, who feast upon the starving and in the desperation become cunts. My immunity built through targeted exposure. Trying not to get sucked in as the quicksand can easily be in disguise. A lingering bitch during heat attracts at night, I am being followed. Collecting from a trail of broken hearts and empty cigarette boxes leaves me in sorrow.
My eyes are closed and I am elsewhere.
Dreaming of dolphins; my spiritual guidance has awoken and I dream of an unborn child whose mother will also be its father. I baptize myself in the warm sand and I feel fresh. A different kind of jungle filled with bamboo and pleasantry. I follow the horizon into a washed out aquarium searching for fire unmindful of that is what I am. I was blind but now I can see. Nature suddenly becomes even more beautiful, it felt like the first time. Multiple climax, I fail to regain consciousness and I walk around nude as if we all will in paradise.
Six months have passed and I now feel ready to begin the next chapter.
My New York experience has been one of discovery and inspiration. It has been as beautiful as it has been challenging but now I feel a yearning to move on.
She hasn’t noticed me staring because she is so engrossed in her sculpting. I can’t help wondering, what is she thinking? I see her, directly in front of me, a warm smile on her face, looking as if she is rising above the mundanity of our day to day life. Sitting motionless in the nude, I am perched on a tall, rotating plank just five feet away from her. I’m so close to her that I can feel her warmth, and her passion for her work draws me in.
I envy her calm satisfaction as the pain from my pose makes me sweat. During the classes I am regularly asked whether I am an artist and I reply “no, not yet” but I have never felt so eager to start; to get my hands dirty and to lose myself in the process. Generally artists arrive at the class with enthusiasm and even excitement for the class. Then throughout the class their grunts and four letter clues tell me that their frustrations are getting the better of them. I have been posing for this sculpting class for the last three weeks and each time Sax walks in it is the same; she finds her place, she locates her piece, she ties her apron and then she is gone, ethereal. Not a single word, not a single gasp of frustration, not a moment of frowns. I found myself reflecting on memories of previous classes in which the artists have already become upset with themselves and each other before we had even begun. They would disagree about my pose or the layout of the easels. I recalled instances in which I heard altercations between the artists. I will never forget the disappearing lady who tried and tried so hard to learn how to draw and kept beating herself up over it and eventually left half way through a class.
As the lecture rotates me I stop recalling memories and as I return to the class my eyes fall back on to Sax who is a picture of serenity. Whilst others become frustrated with themselves and their limitations, Sax is content. Her disposition reminds me that the beautiful things in life must remain beautiful, what we do for leisure should bring us happiness. I slightly turn my head to get a clear vision of her hand moulding the clay. She is still smiling and she still doesn’t notice me staring.
About a month ago I visited Frank at his studio and recorded this video.
He was all set up ready to start our private life drawing session when I asked if it would be OK for me to video record him. Luckily he agreed to it and after fidgeting around with the camera I pressed the red button. We managed to capture him in motion with charcoal during a ten minute quick pose. I sped up the frame rate of the video so you can watch Frank working super quick!
If artists worked this fast in real life then my bum would not get so numb.
Directly in front of me there is a small clock hanging on the wall. The big hand is on 6 and the little hand is approaching 8. Having sat still for over an hour I begin to think to myself that I can wait out the remaining thirty minutes until my break. I’ll take the pain. I won’t stretch. I begin to think back to an hour earlier: I arrived at Frank Gambino’s art studio dressed head to toe in vintage garments. Frank took one look at my outfit and immediately asked if we could change the life session to a portrait one. Of course I agreed and so did the other three artists present. I thought to make the most of this unexpected portrait session by creating a gesture pose. So I flamboyantly walked over to the wooden chair and sat down doing my best impression of a 50’s movie star. I crossed my feet and looked slightly down to my left. My right arm was rested upon my lap whilst my fingers slightly gripped the pleats of my dress and my left arm was supported against the back of the chair. My aim for this three-hour pose was to make this portrait look as if I was a lady who lost in her thoughts. After a matter of minutes my mind began to wander. I disconnected from the class, from my surroundings and even the pose. I began to revel in fantasies and plans, ambitions and memories. After a while I realised that I had authentically become the pensive character that I had set out to create. When posing nude for a life drawing session, as opposed to a portrait, the model tends to think more about the pose and which pose will follow. You are acutely aware that the artists in front of you are examining your entire body structure, the shadows and every curve and line. Therefore the model tries to strike a pose which enhances these structures, giving the artist as much as possible to work with.
After a while, I don’t know how long, I came back out of my deep thinking and my mind returned to the studio. As my concentration waned slightly I found myself watching the artists at work. It occurred to me that watching them create their art felt similar to watching a spider spinning its web. One of them glanced at me so I quickly moved my eyes back to where they should be, hoping they did not notice.
As artists become engrossed in their work they each have their own ways of unintentionally expressing themselves. They contort their faces and let out little noises of frustration or satisfaction. In my job as a life model it is impossible to ignore these expressions. We hear everything – be warned! During the session I notice one artist becoming particularly frustrated. I concentrate back on my pose in an attempt to provide some positive energy. I breathe in and before I exhale I focus on my pressure points; the pressure on my feet where the heel of my left shoe is pressing against the top of my right foot; feeling how stiff and tight my ankle joints are; my left arm which is going numb and my hand which feels cold as the blood flows away from my fingers; my other hand, which is slightly gripping my dress; and the feeling of the polyester against my fingertips. I look down, cross my eyes slightly and try to pinpoint the direction in which my nose is pointing so that I can find my head position when I come back into the pose. I start to shift my weight to ease the pain and then I notice that my bum is completely numb. I consider trying to move my body in a subtle way to bring the feeling back. But everyone is intensely focused. The energy is positive and the grunts and facial contortions seem positive. So instead I continue to sit still, trying to focus on the pose and before I know it I am lost in my thoughts again. When I return the big hand hits 12 and the little hand stands still on 8.
I put my hands on my backside with my left leg bent and the right one straight. As I shift all of my weight onto my left leg, I start to think about dancing and this is my first pose. It lasts five minutes. My hands slide as I start to sweat – damn, has it only been two minutes? OK, so I start to think, what shall I do for my next pose? As soon as my five minutes are up, I turn to the left and put my arms in an ancient Egyptian-like shape. Once the pose is finished I inevitably feel compelled to show the class my Egyptian dance moves. Everyone begins to laugh and I carry on my dance-inspired quick poses. One of the things I try to do, amongst all of the other things, is to find inspiration for poses in my free time. Whether it is through looking at paintings, drawings, sculptures, dance, photography, or other life models, I believe it is good idea to keep a good stock of different poses when modelling regularly for life drawing classes. There has even been a time when walking back home I saw a little boy with his family who were waiting for the bus. As the bus appeared in the distance the little boy put his hands over his face as if he was looking through binoculars. All I could do is smile and on the next day copy the little boy’s gesture when modelling for a portraiture class. Everyone in the class thought it was brilliant and could not stop laughing. I sweat, my legs shake, but I try to focus on how amazing it might look for the artists when holding a quick pose. Luckily my dancing experience has been helpful when coming up with a dynamic pose. For some life classes I come in wearing my colourful African head wrap which most artists tend to like. I have been inspired by something new recently for a little photo shoot that I am doing. The project features some incredible African art.
Pablo Picasso was one of other painters who explored the impact of Primitivism through African sculptures and masks. One of his famous works during this movement was his 1925 painting – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I feel very privileged to have been offered the opportunity to pose and have my photo taken African sculptures and masks which are up to three hundred years old. The concept stemmed from the inspiration of Man Ray’s 1926 iconic photograph Noire Blanche. Of course my photograph will not look in anyway similar to that picture. I have also been greatly inspired by two African self-taught photographers, Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé. They were both born in Bamako, Mali and were not discovered by Western culture until the 1990s by Parisian curator André Magnin. Seydou Keita opened his first studio in 1948 where he was inundated with people from his local town wishing to have their picture taken. Malick Sidibé began later and he is particularly known for his photographic representation of the social life of Bamako during the 1960’s. He was particularly interesting in showing how Western Culture was influencing the way of life in his local community. His photos would depict his fellow Africans in Western clothing and holding Western cultural artefacts such as musical records. Much of Sidibé’s work was a natural depiction of social gatherings. He would take his camera to parties and to the beach to try to capture the essence of the community. Keita’s work, on the other hand, was more formal. He worked exclusively from his studio and placed people in specific poses, trying to capture the subjects in a pure and precise manner.
André Magnin saw the great quality of both artists and he still works with Malick Sidibé today. Sadly, Seydou Keita died in 2001 but his work is still influencing many people around the world. I take inspiration from each of their individual voices and hope that this inspiration plays a part in my upcoming project.
Blimey! It’s already the 2nd of August – the time is now and it’s moving swiftly. Recently, I’ve been watching kids play outside my window and it has made me think of my childhood during the summer months. My current life as a full time professional feels so far removed from those days. As a fine art model you find that you have lots of good days and some bad ones. I’m not sure if any other models would agree, but my bad days tend to happen when I’ve been routinely asked to hold a pose for five minutes, which then extends to ten. Or turning up to a session and finding out that you’ve been double-booked.
This week I had a bad day. My private session was cut short only because the artist was tired. I was booked for three hours but was only employed (and paid) for 2 1/2 of those hours. It also took me an hour each way to travel to the session. A very shitty afternoon I must say. I’ve been in this game for two years now and this was definitely a learning curve. I’m glad to say that my subsequent evening session went perfectly well. I tried to think good thoughts, and one of the things I thought about most was how the models, for English painter Euan Uglow, must have felt after a session with him. They were in pain, having contorted themselves into uncomfortable poses for a notoriously fastidious artist. So I really shouldn’t complain.
His method was meticulous, involving a great deal of measuring and correction to create images that are sculptural. The measuring process was laborious and time consuming. In fact Uglow himself joked that one model who was engaged when that he began painting her, was still sitting for the same project when she got married, and the work still wasn’t complete until after she was divorced! There were times in the middle of a painting where models stopped working with him because they found it too hard to maintain the pose.
When working with a life model, artists have to appreciate that there will be minor inconsistencies in the pose. This isn’t necessarily a hindrance. I think it is as a result of his obsessive measuring that I have the feeling of looking at inanimate objects when I look at Uglow’s paintings. His subjects seem to be like toys that have been carelessly dropped somewhere. Still, despite the fact that Uglow was restricting himself so much through his measuring processes, his paintings remain fresh and seductive. In fact, Euan Uglow is one of my favourite painters.
It’s 2pm and I’m just rushing off the bus to model for a sculpting class at the Hampstead School of Art. As I stumble into the school’s main door I can already see the lecturer asking one of the school’s sectaries where I am. Shit – I’m noticeably late! After being very apologetic I introduce myself to artist and lecturer, Patricia Barker. As we make our way into the class room, she explains how her class is normally run and I mention to her that I have already prepared some poses for the class to choose from. We make our way into a dusty, bright, cooled basement full of both finished sculptures and works still in progress. There are seven anxious students circled around an old, beaten, spherical rotating wooden plank which I assume will be my home from home for the next seven weeks. As I start to quickly undress, I explain my idea to the class and the surprise in their faces is such a picture. I show them three different poses starting with one sitting which is Paul Gauguin inspired, the second pose laying which is inspired by Henri Matisse and third is a dynamic laying pose of my own creation! All seven students are very excited and are pleased to have different poses to choose from. Patricia asked them to vote by raising their hands. Pose number three is chosen and this choice led to one of the most interesting and memorable experiences in my life as a fine art model.
Sadly, last week Monday was my final day in the pose. I modelled for three hours, nude, in a cold basement, being rotated slightly every ten minutes. At times I felt like I was placed on surgery bed. Students walked up to me with their measuring devices, which resembled la surgeon’s tools, and they examined every inch of me. Whenever a student decided to moisten their work using their squirt bottle, I was keenly aware that the water could easily make its way to the most sensitive parts of my body. They could so easily forget that the object of their gaze was a real living person, and all of a sudden the cold beads of moisture would be floating their way towards my anatomy. With my eyes closed, I would listen closely to Patricia as she explained to the class in detail about the pose I was holding. Laying still, it seemed to me that I could almost feel her warmth on every curve, bone, muscle, the twists in my back, the pressure points and the areas of where it has gone numb. In some of those moments when I breathe in and out, I tried not to show movement when she explains a certain area of the pose. As I listened, it often seemed to relieve some of my discomfort in the pose. I really began to feel like I was being moulded and my attention moved to areas of my body which I never paid much attention to. This helped me to focus on the pose rather than the numbness or the strain in my left arm from holding my legs back. That was my first time modelling for a group of talented and enthusiastic sculptors. Like we all know, we never forget our first!
The most important lesson that I took away from modelling with this class was being introduced to Auguste Rodin’s sculpture – Torso of Adèle. I’ve always been more familiar with Rodin’s erotic drawings and sketches – don’t ask why – but I knew very little about his sculpting work. Adèle Abruzzesi was Rodin’s favourite model and Torso of Adèle is a rarity among Rodin’s works in that it is named after the model. Patricia brought a book to the class about his work to show me because it turned out that my pose was noticeably similar to that of Adèle in the famous piece. Rodin was always fascinated by the female body; he even once compared the female torso similar to the flexibility of a stem. I guess he couldn’t have made it more obvious, especially with this beautiful piece; her arched back, twisted torso and her pert breasts. The missing limbs mean that there is even more focus on the erotic sensuous curves of the female figure. In that sense it was clear what Rodin hoped to achieve. I’m not sure that I was going for the same thing exactly but I hope he would still have found beauty in my accidental tribute.