Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Notting Hill Carnival romance

Hippy crack canisters. I can see
blue sea, golden sand, palm tree
This year's Notting Hill Carnival is ending. I clamber out over the front garden railings as the gate is wired shut in order to stop complete strangers using the front basement area as a latrine. (Someone uses the gate itself as a bottle opener.)

I sit on a nearby low wall which, like the pavement, is covered in detritus. A large sausage bitten at one end lies near me on the wall. A young white man picks it up and walks off eating it.

I go for a wander. A barefoot girl manages to keep her hat on while vomiting.

It's impossible to keep drawing - people want to chat.

Then I'm joined by my friend who has spent the last two days dancing and helping to manage a float.
An observer

While she goes off to dance some more I am a staring point of stillness on the corner.

A tall neatly-dressed young red-headed man rounds the corner, stops, tilts his head, raises an eyebrow and offers me his arm. In a different dream I go with him.
On Beach Blanket Babylon's territory

My friend returns. We become joyful mudlarks pouncing on Caribbean flags and glittery treasure in the gutter.

Uses for the Financial Times, part 4

Protecting the kitchen table from stuff we found in the gutter after the Notting Hill Carnival.

I handled it with latex gloves and laundered the washable items, don't worry.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Uses for the Financial Times, part 3

To denote gravitas.

Nicola Streeten (who wrote the award-winning graphic novel Billy, Me and You and co-founded Laydeez do Comics with Sarah Lightman) used the FT as a symbol of high seriousness on which to rest her speech notes at the Graphic Medicine conference at Sussex University in July.



Monday, 12 August 2013

Being drawn from an uncomfortable position: the artist as model, part 2

Artists' models are like public lavatories, engaged or vacant. 

I'm at the Newlyn School of Art, working at being the kind of model I want in front of me when I'm drawing.

There's a lot to think about. Hair, jewellery, lipstick; fabric to make pools of colour. I grab a bright yellow book from the shelves for a stab of citrus. Eek - it's got a snail on it. Cornwall.

The star of the day turns out to be my Indian cotton sequinned loose trousers from a market in Cannes, very Matisse. It feels very daring to put clothes on.

Sunblock. The morning sunlight streams through the high schoolroom windows.

Stillness. A quarter-inch shift in my position is seismic. I can't turn to look at my hand but thumb and forefinger feel about three miles apart.

At the start of a long pose the body is light. Then it sinks and solidifies. To counter that, you imagine it filled it with swansdown, whipped egg white.

Sometimes the statue speaks. 'Degas,' I say helpfully as I go into the pose of his 14-year-old ballet dancer, arms down straight behind me. Next time I model, I think, I'll make it a quiz. Spot The Painting. Great Moments In Art.

'Don't tread in that!' I yell as someone is about to put his foot on a splat of blue acrylic paint.

I wonder if I'll wake up and realise that I am naked in front of all these people.

I rearrange my snowdrift self. I plan two poses ahead. Short dynamic fanciful poses, long supposedly tranquil poses. You can subtly shift your centre of gravity without people noticing. You learn to pass the pain from one part of your body to another. Even so it is going to take my back three days to recover.

The teacher is Rose Hilton. Rose is revered by her students. It's fun. Time races.

The director of the art school wanders in to sort out paint. I ask him to move my armchair and harangue him for expecting Rose, his star guest, to do any heavy lifting. Rose thinks it's funny but he has to do what I say because I am naked and therefore the most powerful person in the room. He can save his irritation for later, when I've got clothes on.

Rose wanders around, looking at the students' work. 'She isn't that pretty,' says Rose.

I think of speaking statues. The Commendatore in Don Giovanni. Hermione in The Winter's Tale.

I think of a short poem (brace, brace) I wrote long ago called Galatea which I thought was about some guy but turns out to be about the trippy and intense experience of modelling:

Although you've kicked away the pedestal
I will not fail or falter now
For here, raised disproportionately tall
To see, longer, further, the altered horizon,
I float,
Although marble.

I got a nice email from one of the students afterwards. She said I was a fantastic model. 'Mind you, we had this trapeze artist once...'

All pictures here are by the students.

Sitting for Rose Hilton: the artist as model

Brushmarks on glass in Rose's studio
I am in Rose Hilton's conservatory in Cornwall.

She rootles through her pastels. 'Ooh, where are my whites? I'm going to run out,' she coos, surveying my glistening alabaster, my Antarctic shelves.

Rose and her beau settle down to sketch me. A vine with darkening grapes shades the worst of the sun and I re-apply factor 30 during short breaks. Rose is slender and elegant in a chartreuse linen dress.

My left leg goes numb. I stand on it with all my weight. The leg returns. How lucky I am - up to this day, at least - to have a body that works.

A mutual friend is pottering around the house. When I leave the room briefly, I hear her explain to Rose: 'She looks like that because she hasn't had children.'

Next day I sit for Rose in her Victorian schoolroom studio in Newlyn.

Rose is abstractly figurative. Her effects this morning are gauzy, dreamy and luscious.

We chat. 'You've got pepper and salt in you,' says Rose. 'Do you wear stockings?'

An artist's studio has its own codes. A factory preserving a mystery. It's dangerous to interrupt the collusion between artist and model, but Rose is expecting visitors. A young friend of hers has asked if he may drop in. He phones. He's bringing a hearty cricket-playing Australian.

Rose and I are setting a trap without mentioning it to each other. The boys don't know I'm there. We go quiet.

A tap on the door. 'Come in,' trills Rose.

I am wearing coral leather driving gloves, a freshwater pearl necklace and lipstick. I am sitting on a velvet chaise longue. The weather is hot, the studio pleasantly airy.

I am motionless and silent but appear to be emanating a force field which roots the visitors to the doorway. I think of cartoon characters spatchcocked against a wall.

'I'm afraid I don't know much about cricket,' says Rose as she carries on painting. Dab dab pink dab white.

I say that I used to live next door to Phil Edmonds. It doesn't lead anywhere.

I try to be helpful: 'Slow left arm spin bowler.'

Dab dab dab.

Of course, this is just the view from the chaise longue. I can't tell if horror and pity are somewhere in the reaction. The artist's model is patinated with the victimhood of centuries. Nor am I young.

The situation eases. Chitchat ensues. The model falls silent.

'Right,' says Rose, 'I've finished for the day.

'Are you sure?' I ask, flexing my right hand (pins and needles).


I peel off my gloves and get dressed.

We all leave the studio. Our visitors walk towards the sea.

It's no big deal.

The Maenads would have torn them apart with bloody hands.