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From Picasso to Potemkin for Dr Perera

27 May 2013

A January lunchtime meal for life models in Whitstable brought many introductions. It was a chance to meet Sharon Smithers, life model and event organiser, who has done so much to bring models together on Facebook and in the real world. It was a first visit to Whitstable itself, a town blessed with numerous small galleries and shops devoted to local arts and handicrafts. And, serendipitously, it was an introduction to fellow life model Hope Deeney and the name Dunstan Perera.

Dunstan’s name was brought to the table by Jill, another life model and one who had modelled regularly for his photographic work. He was looking to broaden the range of models with whom he worked so we were encouraged to give him a call; at the age of 79, he freely admits a lack of inclination towards starting up on the Internet. After a lapse of a few weeks I telephoned him and we had a good conversation, the upshot of which was he asked me to post him a few photos and we would take it from there.

When next we spoke he had received the photos, was very positive about working with me, but said he would like to pair me with a female model as there were a number of particular poses from art history that he would like to recreate. A few more weeks elapsed before he decided that, of our several mutual friends and acquaintances, he would like me work with Hope. A date was agreed that suited all three of us.

So, my second meeting with Hope was on a train at London Bridge station bound for south London. I had with me my lightweight dressing gown (which was never needed) and Hope had brought a long plain skirt and plain top at Dunstan’s request. Spirits were high as we looked forward to an assignment that would be new to us both. The twenty minute walk from the station to Dunstan’s flat was bright with fresh Spring sunshine, and we arrived in good time and good heart.

Dr Dunstan Perera is a genuine character in the nicest sense. He has lived a full and fascinating life. Fate and photography have taken him around the world from Sri Lanka to Hollywood, with many stops in between, before setting him down in Charlton. He has created his own unique ‘Creart’ printing process. Samples of his photography and print work have been uploaded to Flickr. Now he greeted warmly a pair of keen, if slightly uncertain, life models.

His modest flat is a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling temple to the art he creates or that inspires him. We removed some of his pictures from a small patch of wall and pinned a sheet a yellow material against it. This would be our backdrop. Dunstan wound 35mm film in his camera and set up his tripod and lighting. A small table bearing a bowl of fruit was set upon the floor. We were ready to begin.

Dunstan showed us a leaflet reproduction of Picasso’s ‘Harlequin and his Companion‘, which hangs at the State Pushkin Museum in Moscow. This would be our first pose while we were still clothed.

dunstan1_harlequin_and_companion

I knelt on the floor and manoeuvred my arms to mirror those of the Harlequin. Hope knelt beside me; Dunstan started snapping. Fine, fine. We adjusted our gazes to different points: ahead, to the camera , to one side. Snap, snap, fine. Then matters turned surreal. I stayed kneeling at the table while Hope stripped naked and stood behind me holding a flower above my head. Snap, snap, snap. And then held a tiny watering can above the flower. Snap, snap.

Creaking to my feet, I removed the table and stripped naked myself.  We were about to enter the classical period so a length of ivy was fixed around head. Eye masks for each of us added a touch of the Venetian exotic, and an ‘anatomically accurate’ doll baby was also produced, much to Hope’s delight.

I sat on my haunches with knuckles to the floor, mimicking a Minotaur pose from one of Dunstan’s innumerable art books. Next I was to raise one edge of the backdrop as though revealing something unknown behind. Snap, Snap.

We then studied an image of two figures in a marble sculpture and set to recreating it. Hope held the yellow material, with one arm at her waist and the other curving above her head; I had a length of blue material tied like a sarong around my own waist, with one hand resting on Hope’s arm and the other reaching behind her back. Dunstan snapped away, shifting his tripod and regularly changing the film in his camera.

Shedding our covers once more, Hope stood holding the top edge of the yellow material while I sat on the lower half, eyes closed, curled against Hope’s legs in a pose reminiscent of ‘deposition of Christ’ tableaux in Renaissance art. Then it was Hope’s turn on the floor, sitting cross-legged holding out a cup while I returned to my haunches with one arm crooked to support an urn as if pouring wine.

Taking to our feet we both stood facing forward, with me half-body behind Hope. Then we faced each other in a kind of half-embrace, holding hands at our sides angled to the camera. Finally, Hope stood against the wall facing forward while I stood in profile with the shadow of my face falling across Hope’s face. Snap, snap, and that’s a wrap. We were done, dressed, and everyone was happy.

We weren’t quite finished, though. The three of us left the flat taking the doll baby, a small plastic pram and a little furry rocking horse as props to set about recreating our own mini tableau from Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin‘ on an outside stairwell.

dunstan1_battleship_potemkin

Hope and I clung together making hammy expressions of horror as we looked down at the baby, pram and horse strewn on steps beneath us, while Dunstan snapped from below and cheerfully fielded the enquiries of his curious neighbours.

It had been a memorable experience in great company; sometimes improbable, other times imaginative, occasionally bizarre, but always enjoyable. Dunstan was certainly upbeat about the session and expressed enthusiasm to work with us again. We’ll be looking forward to it.

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From → Art

One Comment
  1. Charlotte Lock permalink

    I also life modelled for Dunstan during my university days 16 years ago. Thank you for your post…brings back memories.

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