As usual, four models had been booked by Hesketh Hubbard Art Society and, as is more often the case, I was on 30-minute pose duty. I arrived to find the layout of Mall Galleries had changed, with two partitions now dividing the exhibition space. I asked at reception: “Where are the half-hour poses?” A genteel lady replied, “At the far end,” and then added solemnly, “it’s a man…”
“I know,” I replied, “it’s me.”
Working in the round, four poses, two either side of a tea break; I usually open with a standing pose, rotate for a sitting pose, then sit and recline in no particular order after the interval. To start, I tried a variation on my long pose at Morley College last week. In particular I wanted to test my theory that if I spent more time stretching beforehand then I wouldn’t feel as much discomfort. And, of course, it was true. Note to self…
Next I fulfilled a request. One artist had descended upon me when I arrived and asked if I would provide a specific pose for her. “I want you sit to like this,” – she said, sitting on the floor, legs wide apart, hands on knees – “with everything showing.” Not quite to all tastes, I thought, but agreed anyway. Cometh the time, I was able to angle myself so only the requester got her desired full-frontal whilst others had nice side shapes.
I resumed the second half with another seated pose, albeit this time somewhat more decorous. Facing in the opposite direction, I perched myself side-saddle on the edge of the posing bench with one arm placed in front of me and the other set behind. This was followed by a supremely comfortable twisted lay-down to end the session. It had gone well – I felt no aches or pains, and the artists shared their work enthusiastically.
As a model who is known for ‘angles’, I find the challenge with these 30-minute poses is to present four distinct positions that: (a) are interesting for the artists; (b) work well in the round; (c) are bearable for half an hour at a time. In a session that includes both short and long poses it’s much easier to offer variety. This scenario requires a bit more advance thought but, after this session, I think I may just have got the hang of it.
Evening life painting – session 1 of 3
I sat in the cafeteria at Morley College, killing time. Having already had train trouble that morning, and with severe weather forecast, I’d travelled up early. A pool of water collected beside me beneath the tip of my umbrella. At half-five I glanced through the window, into the street-lit blackness, and saw the afternoon’s downpour had turned to a flurry of snow. What an evening to have my first life model booking of the year.
This was to be the first of three successive Thursdays for me here, working with tutor Gillian Melling. Each 3-hour session would be centred on one single repeated long pose, but to warm-up our artists – eight of the expected eleven turned up – we began with four 15-minute poses. Despite two dodgy heaters and unreliable radiators, there was enough warmth coming from two other heaters to make sure I was never cold on this wintery night.
And so to the main pose I would be sustaining over three weeks. I’d been forewarned by Gillian that she was hoping for something ‘angular’. When I arrived, she tentatively asked if I would be willing to stand – of course I would. At first I found an upright pose with arms close upon my torso, but this was considered ‘formal’. “Would you like me to make it more open?” I asked. Yes. So I widened the stance, bent one knee, raised one crooked arm to my neck and angled the other from my stomach.
Not the most comfortable position I’ve ever taken, but it met requirements. I only had to endure it for 50-minutes at the end of this session, with short stretch-breaks at the 20 and 40-minute marks. The next two weeks will be more challenging as I expect I’ll have to hold it for anything up to two-and-a-half hours, with breaks. Still, it’s a friendly group, considerately run, and I know I shall enjoy watching the artworks develop.
My first London Naked Bike Ride was in 2009, my second came in 2011, and 2012 was my third. Like my blogs for those first two rides, I’ve written this fond recollection in early 2017. When 800 would-be nude cyclists gathered at 3:30pm on 10 June 2012, it was by Wellington Arch – traditionally our finish. We made an impressive spectacle and could make a clean start, but were again easy pickings for voyeur photographers.
It was a nice sunny day and a joy to be on the road as we made steady, if somewhat staccato progress along Piccadilly, then down to Trafalgar Square. I’d undertaken my first life model booking only a month before and whereas on earlier rides I’d hidden my face, this time I swapped my scarf for a loud whistle; I was nearly out as a public nude! We went on: Whitehall, Westminster Bridge and south to Waterloo Bridge.
Our staccato opening had become increasingly stop-start, with an emphasis on stop. Later I learned that organisers were deliberately halting us at frequent intervals all the way round so we would stay together as a group rather than become fragmented like last year. It meant we had more time to enjoy the sunshine but also made the overall ride rather frustrating as we could never build momentum.
Natansky… before we knew each other
As in 2011, we went as far east as St. Paul’s Cathedral before turning and taking our time to reach Lincoln’s Inn Fields for an even longer stop. From there we meandered through the back roads around Covent Garden and beyond, to Trafalgar Square. Still we were stop-start, stop-start but we usually encounter good-humoured crowds here so it wasn’t so bad. Certainly we brightened the afternoon of one hen party.
South around Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch, and on to The Mall; I always take particular pleasure in coasting along The Mall with complete naked freedom yet even here we stuttered. It was frustrating but I don’t blame the organisers – they had to make a call, and on this occasion it wasn’t quite right. But they are all volunteers, doing it to protest car culture and celebrate body freedom. I, for one, am grateful.
And so we completed our circuit at Wellington Arch. It was past 7pm when we made it back, after three and a half hours on the go; a lot longer than 2011. This year’s ride also had one more starting point than last year, as a feeder ride comprising 12 bikes and a scooter set out from West Norwood. There would be multiple start points in all the rides that followed – and I haven’t missed a year: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.
I hope that all the while I’m able to pedal, I will continue to be part of the magnificent part-protest, part-celebration that is the phenomenal… London Naked Bike Ride.
This is part two of my look back at the first three London Naked Bike Rides in which I took part. Having made my debut in 2009, I elected to miss the 2010 ride in favour of watching World Cup football on TV – such were my misplaced priorities in those days. On 11 June 2011 around 4pm, however, I was leaving Hyde Park with a thousand other cyclists… bare except for my camouflage hat and the scarf wrapped around my face.
Having broken free of the ubiquitous voyeurs with cameras, we made steady progress along Piccadilly – one of my favourite parts of the ride – then via Trafalgar Square and Parliament Street to Westminster Bridge where tourists merrily photographed us. We then looped south of the river to Waterloo Bridge. This being a less crowded crossing, many of us got off our bikes there to have our own souvenir photos taken.
Back on the north side of the river, we rounded Aldwych to continue along The Strand and further down Fleet Street to St Paul’s. It was exciting as we had not gone this far in 2009. A little beyond the cathedral’s south side we looped up and back to start our return via Cheapside. We’d enjoyed pleasant broken sunshine thus far, but now cloud cover began to thicken slightly, although conditions remained cool and comfortable.
Our return journey towards Hyde Park continued along Holborn, High Holborn, around Lincoln’s Inn Fields – where we paused for a loo break – then through Covent Garden, to Trafalgar Square, beneath Admiralty Arch and down The Mall. I love the jaunt along The Mall; it joins Piccadilly and the two bridges as being my favourite parts of the ride. Past Buckingham Palace and up Constitution Hill, we finished under Wellington Arch.
It had been superb fun; even better than the ride two-years before. As always on these chaotic occasions, it was impossible to get a sense of overall progress whilst we were out on the road, but it emerged afterwards that the ride had become fragmented. Most riders reached Wellington Arch by 6pm, with rain arriving 30 minutes later, but by then my hired bike was back with London Bicycle Tour Company. Job done. Happy.
It is early 2017 and I am a veteran of seven London Naked Bike Rides. I’ve stripped naked many times as a life model, art performer, street protester, photography model and charity fundraiser but on 13 June 2009, before any of those things, came my first London Naked Bike Ride. On this warm breezy Saturday I joined 1,200 other cyclists on a long leisurely loop around central London, from Hyde Park to Wellington Arch.
Maps data © 2009 Google – from Hyde Park to Wellington Arch
I remember, it was around 90 minutes before the 3:30pm start that I wheeled my bike past Wellington Arch, into Hyde Park. I’d expected to find the formative gatherings of soon-to-be-naked cyclists but, no, not a sign, so I sat down on the grass and waited. Duly a few people arrived with bikes; at 2:30pm, some began undressing; by 3pm I’d done likewise; come half-past three we were lined up, naked, ready to hit the streets.
I had no idea whether I was towards the front or back of the group, who was doing the organising, or what would be the signal to start. While we waited, voyeurs surrounded us and feasted greedily with their cameras. This was a time before I’d stopped caring about being photographed naked, so I wore a camouflage hat with a scarf tied around my face. How times change! With a tingling thrill we started along Piccadilly.
In sensuous spring sunshine, our surreal spectacle crossed Westminster Bridge for a short sojourn south of the river. This was where my day had started, as I hired my two wheel transport, plus a pannier for clothes, from the London Bicycle Tour Company at Gabriel’s Wharf on the south bank. The ride never made it that far east, however, as we returned to the north side via the very next crossing – Waterloo Bridge.
I was having a wonderful time. All around me were hundreds of people either wholly or partially naked; some with bits of costume, others in body paint, some playing music, others blowing whistles. It felt like utter freedom – except I’d chosen to cower under a disguise. How I wish I could have my time again and be fearless from the start. North of the river we continued on The Strand, Chancery Lane and Holborn to Oxford Circus.
We completed our circuit via Grosvenor Street, Upper Grosvenor Street then back to Hyde Park, where we veered south along Park Lane and finished triumphantly below Wellington Arch. More cameras awaited our return; organisers and police alike were keen for us to get dressed quickly, and the seething scrum of damp-palmed voyeurs gave many of us greater inclination to do so. Others, of course, revelled in it.
Such glorious, hedonistic madness. I knew it couldn’t end here, that this would not be the last time I took part, but how little I sensed when departing Hyde Park a few hours earlier, that I was embarking on a profound personal journey destined to transform my life in unimaginable ways. A group photo shoot the next day at Prested Hall became the very first nude art project in which I participated. The rest – this blog – is history.
“As a collective of three artists, JocJonJosch are interested in issues of identity relating to the individual and the group both on a universal as well as a more self-reflective level.”
– JocJonJosch portfolio introduction.
“In Dig Shovel Dig, each of the three artists dig their own hole in the earth, only to fill their neighbour’s hole. The process of digging and shovelling repeats till JocJonJosch eventually give up. What remains are neither three obvious holes in the ground nor three equally filled pits.”
– JocJonJosch ‘Dig Shovel Dig’ (2013) video introduction.
In spring 2016 the collective called for volunteers to collaborate with them in digging earth at a site in Martigny, Switzerland and build a series of totem poles that would stand for a period of time, before eventually being razed to the ground. Come winter, this evolution through practice and intervention was ready to be presented as a new performance in the heart of London.
“Foot-Kroku-Zvuk-Klingen-Fall – the corruption of ‘footfall’ through translation from English, to Czech, to German places an emphasis on the motion and the sound of the action implied by the word Footfall. The collective JocJonJosch are devising a new performance entitled Footfall premiering at Laure Genillard gallery…”
– Laure Genillard gallery event introduction.
The call for performance collaborators came on 16 October. After the joy of working with JocJonJosch for Existere (2011), Ouroboros (2013), and Ouroboros (2014), I immediately expressed an interest. Frustratingly, I would not be able to take part in the opening night private view on Friday 25 November, but I took consolation from at least being able to join its dry-run movement rehearsal (earthless) six days earlier.
Six of us would be part of the second performance: Joc (of the collective), Chris, Cy, Stan, me, and Esther; late sickness meant Esther was to be a lone female. When I arrived, Joc and Jon were already well advanced in preparing a large round-ish pile of mud at the centre of the upstairs gallery space. For this performance, we were to be trampling it for 90 minutes whilst naked and covered head-to-toe in the stuff.
It was an endurance piece without a break. We were to start at 6:30pm and continue until 8pm, with Jon (of the collective) giving a single clap at half-hourly intervals so we would have an idea of progress. The time came for us to put on the mud. Esther and I went first, lathering each other all over with dirty great handfuls. When the rest joined us, we helped them cover those hard-to-reach places.
With the doors about to open, gallery assistants took away our possessions and we started to tread through the mud – always looking downwards, never at each other or those who entered the room. I had felt uncomfortably cold when the mud first went on my body, but I quickly warmed up once we were underway. The thick heavy mud was firm yet satisfyingly squashy… albeit peppered with annoying little stones.
It wasn’t physically fatiguing work, only mentally tiring as time dragged. The first clap seemed to take ages coming. Although theoretically we were all performing the same action, in practice our movements varied according to our physicality: some marched while others glided; some were upright while others slouched; some created patterns while others were directionless. Thus, we persevered curiously to a close.
At the finish, with all guests cleared from the gallery room we stepped from the mud into paper suits and flip-flops. Speedily we dashed via the street to the flat next door, where we would shower and dress. The mud on our skin was part caked, part sticky, part crumbly and there was no way to shift it all without making a fearful mess. I pity whoever tidied up after but, as is said: no good art is produced without suffering.
Once sufficiently clean for admittance to decent society, we joined the artists, fellow performers and select guests for wine and tortillas in the lower gallery space. As we relaxed, so we could enjoy what previously we’d endured. Meanwhile, the expanded disc of mud above us set slowly in serene solitude. Every ridge and impression now seemed to be imbued with a serendipitous artistic quality. We’d done good work.
I look forward to returning for a final performance of Footfall on Friday 3 February 2017.
My last booking of 2016 was for a creative agency’s pre-Christmas celebrations. Their party organiser booked Art Macabre for an afternoon of life drawing, and I in turn was booked on 28 November. A second model – Rosy – was added on 15 December, four days before the gig itself. Our venue was Wilton’s Music Hall in London’s east end.
We were to pose as characters from old time music hall. Art Macabre’s Nikki provided our historical context and nervously played Cockney sing-along tracks that walked the tightrope of political incorrectness. I posed in top hat and face paint as Flash Harry for 2 and 3-minutes, then as Champagne Charlie as we stood for 10 and 15-minutes.
Next, a creative exercise was created for our creative agency. Nikki asked her models to sit adjacent on a couch, then challenged the nine artists to dream up designs for a ventriloquism act poster. Needless to say, I was the dummy. Imaginations ran wild for 15-minutes, both in their elaboration of our tableau and the invention of slogans.
Rosy posed for 5-minutes whilst I underwent the traditional music hall gender swap of putting on a corset and floppy floral hat. Once transformed, it was my turn to hold the fort – for 10-minutes – as further gender changing took place backstage. For our final 15-minutes, I lay largely ignored on the couch, whilst Rosy was drawn on a stool.
All this had taken place in a modest-sized upstairs room with a bar rather than in the main music hall space. It would have been nice to experience the big auditorium, yet even here the venue’s classic character was undeniable. There is comfort in knowing places like this have found a way to survive in the modern era. Life goes on.