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The Dark Waters of Art Macabre

1 June 2014

It’s the last Tuesday evening of May. Rain is teeming into puddles on the saturated streets of Islington. In Colebrooke Row, meanwhile, upstairs at Cass Art the pattering and splashing is a different soundtrack, that of fine brushes swirling in plastic cups. Watercolours are afoot.

A horseshoe of 30 seated artists has assembled here to capture the astounding visual confections fashioned by Art Macabre. Tonight, on this wettest of May nights, their theme is Dark Waters.

I was one of two life models ready to be imagined in four roles. For the first part of the evening I would be a child-snatching grindylow, while newcomer Helen would emerge as the shimmering Lady of the Lake. After an interval I would return as Charon, ferryman of the underworld, transporting souls across the river Styx to Hades. Helen would be the human embodiment of Styx.

The charismatic visionary who conceives such diverse fantasies and melds them to a coherent whole is, of course, Nikki, aka Raven Rouge – business director, creative director and all-round macabre art engine – with essential support provided by the equally talented Linsay.

Together they set out chairs and build a skull-strewn waterworld set of fabrics, before turning their attention to make-up for the models.

Linsay started with me, painting my arms, shoulders, ribs and face a mottling of blues, silvers, greens and black. To my right, Nikki set about embellishing Helen with beautiful cascades of azure tears and delicately decorated blue boobs (bloobs?)

Infinite adornments were festooned around Helen’s golden hair and her pleated pale turquoise gown, whereas in my grindylow guise I was to wear nought but a draping of black mesh. Oh, and as ever, Nikki picked up her brush and gave me my ubiquitous Art Macabre skull-black eyes.

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We were ready to go with barely a moment to spare. Nikki greeted our audience and set the mood with a grim recounting of murky mythologies from unfathomable depths. In a far corner, concealed for the public gaze behind mounds of art materials, Helen sat serenely in her elaborate costume while I crouched low in nothing but my paints.

I was first to enter the arc of watercolourists. Five poses were to last one minute, one minute, two minutes, five minutes and 10 minutes with the skeleton of an umbrella for a prop. Regrettably the first one-minute pose disintegrated after just 40 seconds as the material upon which I was squatting slid from beneath me on the polished floor. Redemption came in the five-minute pose, which called for one arm to be stretching high aloft throughout.

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Helen then made her entrance and Nikki set to peeling from her the costume that had been prepared so meticulously. We posed for 15 minutes, after which I withdrew to wash off my make-up, leaving Helen in her second pose to take the session to its interval.

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After the break we returned for a 10-minute pose together as Charon and Styx: me with loincloth, Helen with robe. For the final half-hour Helen held centre stage alone and naked, seated with a slight sideways lean on a high flat surface – it’s a pose that looks deceptively comfortable but can easily lead to numb limbs. She held it very well.

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By the time Helen had taken her applause and Nikki had closed the session, I was already dressed and able to chat with the artists while photographing some of their superb work. I’m so used to being drawn with pencils or charcoals that it was a real treat to see so much colourful art on display.

Special credit to Aaron – Art Macabre regular; Twitter’s @SilverAJ – whose art seems to get more exquisite and expressive with every passing week; his are the seven works above with clean lines on cream paper. But this was a particularly talented group of artists all round. It was a privilege to pose for them.

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