As I made my way to the Garrett Centre for the evening’s long-pose session, I tried to decide: what pose? My natural inclination is to stand as I imagine most models prefer sitting or laying down, so standing may be appreciated more. Then again, I stood last time and on a couple of other occasions so I reckoned I was due a change. I was still making up my mind when I entered and saw a step ladder in the pose space.
My destiny was clearly preordained… I would be seated at the top of a step ladder for the better part of two hours. And that was fine; I knew I could make it comfortable and interesting. First we cycled through some warm-up poses: three of 5-minutes and one of 8-minutes. I tried to make these varied, with a couple fairly dynamic to contrast the sedentary work ahead.
And so to the ladder. The most crucial moments of long poses are those last seconds before settling into position. One misjudgement of balance, or a pressure point, or the twist of a limb, or weight distribution, can mean much pain ahead. Even so, faced with two dozen artists all keen to begin, there’s an instinct to rush. On this occasion haste resulted in my left foot being pressed a bit too much into the angle of a rung. (sigh)
I sat upon my lofty perch for 35 minutes to the interval, and then a further 70 minutes with two stretch breaks before the end. Left foot and right hand needed shaking from their discomfort but otherwise it was all good and I absolutely loved the artworks that had been created. One artist even went to the trouble of drawing me with long blonde fly-away hair, whilst another got my grey sides perfectly. Nicely done – thank you.
Esther and I arrived quarter of an hour early at Fairkytes Art Centre, yet found seven artists were already sitting in a tight arc around our pose space. More turned up while we chatted with group organisers Natansky and Estelle. In our first pose – 5-minutes standing back to back – I faced away from the door and couldn’t see what was going on, but still it sounded like every few seconds another person was walking in…
Eventually we had an unprecedented eighteen artists drawing us, some finding space on the floor when chairs ran out. For our second pose, I reclined for 10-minutes whilst Esther stood with one foot upon my chest. Next Esther sat on a bar stool and I stood behind her for 15-minutes; finally with 19-minutes left in the first half, Esther stood tall as I sat hugging her left leg.
After tea and biscuits at the interval, we set up a 42-minute pose taking us through to the close. It was a tried and tested routine in which we both sat on a pile of cushions, me with my back to the wall and Esther with her back on my chest. Unfortunately, we were in trouble from the outset as the cushion behind me started slipping slightly with every breath I took. What should have been relaxing became an exercise in control.
It wasn’t horrendously painful, and there was still the sweet consolation of sharing with Esther, yet I couldn’t pretend not to be relieved when it was over. Esther peeled herself from me and revealed a large red sweaty imprint across my sunken torso. What larks! But it was lovely to see some inspired artworks at the end, and great that the session had been so successful. At this rate they may have to consider using a bigger room.
“Would you like to see yourself as a twelve year-old boy in the style of Picasso?” Hey, who wouldn’t? This offer was put to me by one artist at the end of an evening’s work at The Conservatoire in Blackheath. As I’d spent most of the previous two hours sitting with a curved spine, hugging my thighs, I felt closer to the age of 82 than 12, but I was well pleased to see all the art produced. We’d started with three 1-minute poses…
5 and 10-minute poses came next, first standing with hands round my head, and then squatting low. This latter was becoming tough on my toes and tendons during the last few minutes but as I had woken that morning on holiday in Geneva, the discomfort at least helped keep me sharp. After a moment to recover, I was ready for the long pose. I placed a cushion beneath my sheet, sat down and held my arms behind my legs.
Tutor Victoria Rance had suggested various options for the long pose but we agreed this would work best tonight; we will pick one of the others when I return in five weeks. Nine artists had arranged themselves in a circle round me, while Victoria also painted sketches in a drawing book when not offering comments and advice. By agreement, I was given time checks every 20 minutes with the chance to have a stretch.
The session was brought to its close shortly before our scheduled finish at 10pm. The remaining time was spent in collective admiration of the artworks produced. If you had struggled to find a Picasso among the works above, the clue is it’s very early Picasso; look again at the colour pastel sketch in brown and yellow on pale orange paper. Very nice, as were all the distinctive styles on show. I look forward to coming back.
Anerley and Penge Life Drawing sessions at Bridge House can be ‘short pose’, meaning nothing longer than 15-minutes, or ‘long pose’, meaning exactly the reverse. At the time of accepting a booking, one doesn’t know which it will be, but for me this evening was to be one of long poses: two of 15-minutes, one of half-an-hour, a break, then 20 and 25-minutes to a close.
Unintentionally it became something of a workout for my arms. I opened with a pose I’d seen Esther hold for 15-minutes at Mall Galleries just three days before: a pace forward with both arms extended. It was taxing yet achieved. Next, I went down onto my left knee, with my right hand planted on the ground – taking my weight – and my left arm resting across my raised right knee; the right arm suffereth.
For the 30-minute pose I’d intended to take inspiration from a powerful drawing I had seen in an exhibition at Leigh Community Centre, wherein the model sat with legs slightly apart, knees raised, elbows on knees and head in hands. As it was, however, the previous pose weakened my limbs and joints too much to make it sustainable, so instead I sat self-entwined… and made my right arm ache even more.
The break, when it came, was most welcome. Afterwards, I first sat upon a footstool with one leg folded beneath my body, then concluded the evening in a standing pose with right hand upon my belly and left hand raised to head height – thereby ensuring my left arm would ache as much as the right. Such trivia aside, it had been another enjoyable evening for a nice group with a good turn-out: 15 artists this time.
Upon entering the back room of Laure Genillard gallery, I found a dazzling line-up of veteran art performers at rest upon the sofa before me. Chas, Clifford, Cy, Paula – I had participated in many a nude artistic action with these fine folk over the years. On this occasion we had gathered to be part of the third and final ‘Footfall’ installation by JocJonJosch, in central London.
We were joined by Chris, who together with Cy and me had been a part of Footfall seven weeks before, plus another Chris who was in Sion for Ouroboros three years earlier, and finally a brother of one the artists’ wives. Thus, eight of us would perform, but to do so we needed to undress and get covered in mud. First Paula, then the rest us, crossed to the upper gallery, stripped and stepped into its pile of wet earth.
We were due to begin the performance at 6:30pm, but first there was to be a talk by Jo Melvin, the exhibition’s curator, in the gallery downstairs. The challenge for us was to stay silent as we applied handfuls of filth to our own bodies, and the hard-to-reach places of our friends. Once completely covered, without further ado or prompting, we started automatically to trample around in the muddy mass.
After applauding the curator, our audience ascended stairs to watch in silence as we paced about in dirt. We paid no attention, but simply continued our monotonous toil. Whilst the action was meant to be identical for us all, in practice some idiosyncratic styles emerged: Chas was the sweeper, using a foot to push earth from the edges to the centre; Clifford was our gardener, continually picking small stones from underfoot.
Cy became the artist in our midst, making ever more complex swirls and ridges in the mud, only for the rest of us to obliterate them with aimless treading; meanwhile Paula was the dancer whose personal footfalls echoed a samba-style repetition. None of the three artists of JocJonJosch were taking part – a temporary reprieve for Joschi, whose turn it was, so his time would come a fortnight later in Switzerland.
The performance was intended to last two hours, although in practice I believe it may have been cut short to an hour and a half. It was tiring work nonetheless. Afterwards, all eight of us took turns to wash ourselves in the gallery’s two showers, and duly left behind disgraceful scenes of flooded devastation, yet there was no subtle alternative. When dressed, we joined the after-show party for pizza, banter and wine.
It may seem insane to most onlookers and readers – why volunteer for something like this? Although I am undeniably a nude art specialist, I’m also fully appreciative of the artistic integrity and practice of JocJonJosch; its intensity, curiosity and camaraderie. When the gallery closed, we continued the latter nearby at Bradley’s Spanish Bar. Esther joined us; in two weeks we would both join Joschi in the mud at Martigny…
It was a fraught journey of train cancellations and delays, yet somehow I still reached The Plough and Harrow with ten minutes to spare. Inside, Esther was tucking into chips. This may seem strange preparation for modelling, but as she’d eaten only two slices of toast all day up to that point, it was little short of essential. When the chips were down, we ran through a few pose ideas with Jenny – organiser of Life Drawing in Leytonstone – and then, at the stroke of 7:30pm, it was time to disrobe…
We started with a 10-minute standing pose, bodies in contact, me behind Esther with my arms around her; seemingly simple yet not without minor challenges. So much of life modelling is about balance that even the smallest movement is amplified if it pulls away from, or pushes into a co-model. We followed this with another 10-minute pose, Esther standing once more, and me now seated as a complex tangle of limbs around her legs – possibly our trickiest challenge for the artists.
The first half ended with us sitting in an intimate embrace on a large leather footstool, with Esther nestling in between my legs and me reaching around her. Again, it would have appeared sumptuously comfortable, but we took time and due care in arranging our limbs to avoid numbness. This was a 30-minute pose, after all. A grand selection of teas and chocolates awaited us at the interval; it’s a very friendly group, and Jenny takes great care of her artists and models.
One long pose of 45-minutes occupied the second half. We lay down together on our sides, once more in a tight embrace with me to the rear. As Esther recalled later, the artists didn’t see my full body all evening, yet I doubt this would have been a concern. Composition of each pose is more important, so given our comparative sizes it’s only natural that I should be behind Esther more often than not. When our work was done, we stayed on for a drink and chat with the group – thank you all for a lovely evening.
The unexpected: I was bequeathed this booking at one day’s notice when a fellow life model had to cancel for family reasons. It being my first engagement with University of Arts London, I made sure to check in at their Holborn building insanely early. The security guard on reception knew nothing of any room for life drawing, however, so he called his supervisor. Meanwhile, the first artist arrived. We chatted till the supervisor joined us to confirm a prevalent state of ignorance.
“But what if the model needs to know?” asked my artist friend.
“I am the model…” I replied.
We were ushered towards the UAL Student Union office, where a very friendly chap directed us to room HH.209. More artists arrived, until eventually there were fourteen. Intuitively, they cleared tables and chairs from the pose space so that when the tutor, Sean, joined us, we were ready for art. To my joy, the session would be filled entirely with quick poses – no time to get pains. Sean suggested, “nothing too complicated,” but sometimes one cannot prevent oneself.
I began with poses of just 1-minute. The room was near silent, except for the regular pings of a laptop to signal when I should change. I’d rotated through countless shifts of sixty-seconds by the time Sean said, “now let’s go on to 3-minutes.” After several more of these, we moved to 5-minutes, then had a short interval before finishing with five poses of 10-minutes each. There was little interaction or conversation during the session, but I thoroughly enjoyed the format. I hope it won’t be a one-off for me.