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.

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