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Monsterlune style for Foolish Fire

Tiger Moth Divinity! On the Monsterlune catwalk, I was to be a Tiger Moth Divinity for the opening night of Foolish Fire – a week-long exhibition of work by Sarah Gilbert and Estelle Riviere Monsterlune. I felt honoured to be trusted with Estelle’s sacred Tiger Moth emblem, and relished the chance to show-off in another of her awesome fashion creations…

Foolish Fire

‘Foolish Fire’ is a translation of the Latin words ‘ignis fatuus‘ – the original name given to the flame-like phosphorescence caused by gases released from decaying plants in marshy areas. The phenomenon is now more commonly known as ‘Will-o’-the-Wisp‘, which itself has become a metaphor for any deceptive hope or unattainable goal… an especially poignant choice;  rest in peace, wonderful magical genius, Mr Ben Hell.


Eleven of us were to take part in Estelle’s unique fashion parade at the Islington Arts Factory on Friday 22 March. We’d been asked to arrive from 5:30pm so Estelle could work on us backstage from 6:30pm, in time for the show to begin at 7:30pm. I was the first one there, so I took time to absorb the extraordinary collection of items on display in the exhibition – realised visions, passions and emotions; powerful and exquisite.


Our salubrious backstage dressing room was the ladies’ toilets. All eleven of us fitted inside and began changing into our designated outfits while Estelle flitted between us, attending to every minute detail – ropes to be tied around legs, the attaching of wildly long finger extensions, securing top-heavy head-accessories, ensuring each garment was aligned or hanging correctly, refining each design to maximum fabulousness.

© Sallyanne Wood

I knew from previous experience that our one-hour preparation time would fly by and Estelle would be under pressure. The situation was not helped when a woman walked in and demanded we all leave so that two young girls from a dance class elsewhere in the building could get changed. Despite us having prior approval to use this space, we nonetheless relocated our entire operation to the gents’ loos instead. Farcical.

© Sallyanne Wood

© Sallyanne Wood

© Sallyanne Wood

Fashion show

Somehow everything came together and we were only a few minutes fashionably late for our 7:30pm start. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us the exhibition space had filled to capacity with Monsterlune enthusiasts eager for our appearance. Deep breaths, then Estelle ushered us out to our catwalk entrance. Eerie lilting music began to chime; a special recording based on original piece by Ben Hell. One by one, we entered…

Catwalk © Flavio Matani

Katherine – ivy feral goddess from magical forest – © Richard Kaby

Michael – several faces possessed by an evil giant doll – © Balazs Studinger

Amelia – red ghost from Venetian carnival – © Balazs Studinger

Sara – pop art sexy creature – © Richard Kaby

Sonia – divine glamorous skull girl – © Richard Kaby

Pavol – PunkyFunk female trouble – © Richard Kaby

Gloria – naughty pixie from a dark rainbow – © Richard Kaby

Aizen – black flame sexy cat – © Richard Kaby

The music was to play for six and a quarter minutes as models entered at 30-second intervals. Our movements would be slow, elegant and graceful. Katherine headed the procession, while Estelle gave us each in turn a signal when to follow. Somehow lost in the moment, our soundtrack reached its end before the final three models entered, but we continued regardless as the haunting melody resumed from its opening bars.

Ruth – mystical eyeball lady – © Richard Kaby

Steve – tiger moth divinity – © Richard Kaby

Sallyanne – fire goddess – © Richard Kaby

Mingling moth

Upon reaching the end of the runway we stood perfectly still like mannequins awaiting the rest of our number. When all were present, we styled out the final few moments of music and then together with Estelle – most especially for Estelle – accepted the rich applause that followed. Our formal work done, we were at liberty to mingle among the guests; sometimes chattering, sometimes posing, always bewitching.

© Richard Kaby

© Richard Kaby

© Richard Kaby

The end

The occasion was winding down and our audience began to thin, yet still we twirled in the open spaces till, with the hour approaching nine o’clock, a microphone was set-up for Estelle’s closing speech. She gave warm thanks to everybody who’d helped, taken part or attended this special evening, and once again affectionate applause resonated to the rafters. It was a beautiful moment.

Estelle Riviere © Richard Kaby

Sarah Gilbert © Richard Kaby

Islington Arts Factory was the venue for my first ever life modelling experience, and this was the first time I’d returned since that defining moment in 2012. It has a special place in my heart so it felt to good to be back with special people at a joyful event. My congratulations to Estelle on an exhilarating opening night, and to both her and Sarah for the vivid sensory banquet of their exhibition. I am an enraptured moth to their fire.


Wanstead House, London, 17 March 2019

Following Saturday morning life modelling at Lochaber Hall, I forfeited my last chance for a weekend lay-in by arriving promptly before 10:30am to start at Wanstead House on the Sunday. Somehow I felt reasonably fresh, however, so when all the artists were settled I began with sinew-stretching standing poses of 10-minutes and 15-minutes. A 35-minute seated pose – “compact”, as requested – took us to a break.

Over tea and digestives at the interval, a conversation between regular attendees and group organiser, Patrick briefly speculated on the number of years that various artists had been coming to sessions. It got me thinking about my own longevity – I made my debut here on 21 November 2012. Appearances have tailed off since the early years, with my last booking being almost exactly a year ago, but it’s always good to return.

Break-time socialising often occupies a happy half-hour so by the time we returned to our art-making there was just enough of the session left for one more 30-minute pose. Once more I was sitting, albeit now on a chair with one of my legs folded beneath me and hands resting on my knees. The silence was broken only by Patrick’s light-touch tutoring and my fleeting need to suppress cold symptoms. A nice, gentle morning.

Lochaber Hall, London, 16 March 2019

The undeniable truth that I was going down with a cold had revealed itself early on the Thursday ahead of this Saturday morning session. Over the 48 hours that followed, all the usual symptoms manifested and – while nothing more than a common cold – I felt there could be arduous moments ahead. No-one craves a model with a runny nose.

The 3-hour sessions at Lochaber Hall always commence with a train of short poses, then settle into a single long pose for the remaining time. Happily when I was greeted by David, the group organiser, he said they would like a reclining long pose this week. What a relief! It meant I could tilt my head back and thereby avert a nose crisis.

We started off with seven 5-minute poses, followed by a 10-minute pose. I warmed up making all manner of shapes during this opening period and felt much better for it. An arc of easels stood before me accompanied by a larger than usual gathering of artists. When the quick work was done, I made myself a nest between heaters and lay down.

The long pose lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes with a break about a third of the way in. I was much cheerier by now, even voluntarily raising an elbow, a hand and one knee to make my body more of a three-dimensional landscape. I was comfortable throughout to the extent that, despite initial foreboding, this session proved just the tonic.

The Prince Regent, Herne Hill, 13 March 2019

I’m wondering if you guys would be up for modelling in bright clothing or partly clothed this Wednesday – we could have it as a spring theme – greens yellows if you had any interesting stuff or just something that’s quite sculptural / colourful when worn.

Such was the request Esther and I received from Lisa of SketchPad Drawing on the Monday before our Wednesday booking. Lisa does like a dose of colour and costume from time to time, so that’s exactly what we gave her…

I sported the long orange and leopard-pattern dress – a Monsterlune creation – that I’d worn for Esther’s performance of Girl in Suitcase last year, plus a Venetian-style bird mask and Esther’s shimmery blue wings. Esther herself wore high-heeled boots, green leggings, a red string dress and a radiant sun-pattern top. I think this delivered on the terms of our brief. Opening in separate rooms upstairs at The Prince Regent, we proceeded to alternate with each change of pose during the first half.

Lisa called the changes: a 5-minute pose to begin with, then another 5-minutes, then another 5-minutes, 15-minutes followed, 15-minutes again, and one more 15-minutes. Poses of this length should be a doddle, but when one is wearing wings that insist on being held at arms length, plus a figure-hugging dress down to the ankles, the choice of posture is greatly limited. Swathed in vibrancy and fabulousness, however, it didn’t prevent us inspiring some wonderful artworks.

After a break Esther reclaimed her wings and – at Lisa’s behest – I borrowed Esther’s patchwork dressing gown. We sat back to back in the doorway between rooms for our final pose of 40-minutes… which is when it all started going wrong for me. As I leaned back I’d used my right hand to hold up a fan instead of allowing it to relieve my back’s muscles by bearing some of my bodyweight. A long period of pain followed – the cost of showing-off. It took me a good few minutes to recover. Loved the drawings though!

The Workshop N4, London, 12 March 2019

The Workshop N4 is located a mere three doors west from Harringay station. Alas, my journey was not actually via that track as I looped across from east London to the north, but it seemed convenient in principle. As always for a first time booking, I made sure I arrived comfortably early – a gesture appreciated by life drawing organiser, Lisa who the proceeded to show me around and tell me about the group.

Sessions are from 7:30pm to 9pm and (at present) accommodate a handful of artists. Lisa suggested I stand, then sit on the floor, sit on a chair and lastly sit stretched out along a bench – within that remit I had creative freedom. Poses would be 15-minutes, 20-minutes, 20-minutes, and 20-minutes respectively. We waited for all the expected regulars to arrive before commencing our first pose.

The gathering felt friendly and intimate; no pressure, just smiles. One artist was trying life drawing for the very first time (the honour was mine!) and proved to be a natural. A gentle playlist accompanied our efforts, while all around was colour – during daytimes this is a creative art space for children. It’s a little bit out of my way but truly I enjoyed the evening. Merrily I departed in pursuit of chips, hoping one day to return.

Mall Galleries, London, 11 March 2019

Best laid plans were unravelling at Mall Galleries. First the portrait model pulled out, so a late replacement – Maria Alexe – was brought in. Then the model for 15-minute poses dropped out too, so literally at the last moment Lily Holder was moved across from the long-pose room; ergo, no long pose this evening. Meanwhile, in the midst of all this I seemed to be an unwitting pillar of stability on 30-minute poses. I duly struck a dramatic upright stance and felt pleased with myself.

Artwork by Anthony Roe.

Artwork by Simon Whittle.

Upon arrival I had found artists already about two rows deep encircling the 15-minute pose space, whereas those awaiting me could be counted upon one hand. Come the 6pm start, however, with a decision on Lily’s transfer still not made, I began to notice more chairs being turned around and easels angled my way. How nice! I followed my standing pose with a seated posture of many angles. This took us to the interval and an opportunity to binge on tea and dark chocolate digestives, which I seized.

Artwork by Simon Whittle.

Artwork by Simon Whittle.

Artwork by Anthony Roe.

Earlier that day with time to kill in London, I’d popped into the National Gallery shop and leafed idly through some art books in search of pose ideas. An image that caught my eye and inspired me next was ‘La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans‘ by Edgar Degas – albeit I was a 6’4″, 40-something male version. Lastly, I semi-reclined on my front for what turned out to be the least comfortable half-hour of this session. All in all, however, I was happy with my evening’s work and loved the resultant art.

The Star by Hackney Downs, 5 March 2019

After a week recharging in Jandía on sunny Fuerteventura, I resumed life modelling with Drawing the Star. It was my first time back at The Star by Hackney Downs in 2019. New brighter lights had been fitted but otherwise all was comfortingly familiar.

We opened with short pose times getting ever-shorter: 5-minutes, 4, 3 and 2-minutes, three of 1-minute, three of 30-seconds. The first half ended with two 10-minute poses starting with a dramatic one-arm-raised, other-arm-pointing stance.

When the pointing was done, I pulled up a low stool and perched upon it with one leg folded beneath me, the other extended and my torso leaning to the right. The primary consideration was to offer variety, both on the night and across all recent visits here.

After the break, organiser Catherine Hall asked the artists whether they would favour one 30-minute pose, two of 15-minutes, three of 10-minutes, or a 10 and a 20. After a little haggling, the consensus settled on 10-minutes and 20-minutes.

I believe the choice of 10 and 20 meant that I’ve now had the complete set of possible second half permutations over various visits… or maybe it happened ages ago and I’d lost track. It doesn’t matter; I hope I’ll get to do them all again many times to come.

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