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A Midsummer Night’s Fête at the RA

24 June 2014

We’re looking for 2 friendly Art Macabre friends to come help out on the evening of Sat 21 June, at the Midsummer Night’s Fête event at Royal Academy next Friday.

You’ll get to be part of an exciting event featuring music from Gabby Young, vintage stalls, art, and get in for free (tickets worth £25 each)… plus lure people into our Midsummer themed death drawing workshops, whilst dressed as a woodland creature. Fancy it? Message us now!

Thus came the call from Art Macabre, ten days before they were due to be part of a Midsummer Night’s Fête at the Royal Academy of Art (RA) in London. It may not have been life modelling work or even expenses-paid work, but such an opportunity is not to be missed. I offered my services and was glad to have them accepted.

Art Macabre supremo, Nikki aka Raven Rouge, was away taking death drawing to the green and pleasant land of Warwickshire’s Also Festival, so stepping in as MC was the mighty Jon. I had modelled with Jon at my very first Art Macabre salon wherein he was strongman Victor and I was the skeleton clown, Egon. It was a pleasure to be working with him again.

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Jon in character, your master of ceremonies, © Jon

Our midsummer salon at the Royal Academy was to be “a dark and twisted vision of Shakespeare’s classic shape-shifting tale of fairie queens and bare Bottoms”. Of the performers:

  • Jon would be King Oberon
  • Kate would be Titania, Queen of the Fairies
  • Peter would be Nick Bottom, and later Puck
  • Elizabeth would be the feminine side of Bottom/Puck

My fellow volunteers were Amy and Farida. We helped to prepare the stage and pack away afterwards, but our main job was to entice and lure people towards Art Macabre in the RA’s famous life drawing room. We wouldn’t be modelling, right? No, there’s no way that could happen…

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The model’s stage under construction, © Peter

Jon was early on the scene, while the rest of us mustered around 6pm. Elizabeth ran into difficulty as she tried to get past increasingly thick layers of security at the main gate. I was dispatched to see if I could help, but by the time I got there she’d already vanished. So I returned to the life drawing room and, lo, there she was. A determined model will always find a way to be where they’re needed.

Body-painted leaves began creeping up Peter’s forearms while Kate whitened her face and began applying delicate black details. To my untrained eye, the individual strokes appeared minimal but the overall effect was rather powerful. Here was someone highly skilled and well practised in their craft. A bewitching headdress and dainty fairy wings completed the queen’s ensemble.

As the models prepared their costume and make-up, so did the volunteers. ‘Dark’ and ‘woodlands’ were our watchwords. Amy and Farida wore elegant black dresses, which they festooned with flowers, and wove more blooms into their hair. I went shirtless, but with a tight black waistcoat and black bow-tie, khaki shorts, a wide-brimmed straw hat and a weaving of ivy, flowers and cherries. Nice.

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Amy and myself made midsummery

Doors to the fête opened at 6:30pm; the first Art Macabre drop-in session was to run from 7pm to 8:15pm. We didn’t want anyone there early, but neither did we want the room empty for too long. With so much variety on offer at the Academy we could not be sure how high we’d be among the visitors’ priorities. Certainly most seemed to be making a beeline for the bars and then soaking up the atmosphere of the courtyard.

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The Royal Academy of Art gets a lawn, © Farida

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As crowds come in, so the dancing begins… © Farida

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…while others settle down for some alfresco creativity, © Farida

At 7pm sharp I made a move, sidling towards the first innocents to drift in my vicinity. “Would you be at all interested in a spot of life drawing?” I enquired tentatively of two gentlemen. I had strayed somewhat from the planned line about “dreamlike dark and deathly visions” but they needed no further persuasion. I escorted them merrily to the life drawing room and showed them into Jon’s care. Two in the bag. We were off.

It was as easy as that all evening. About halfway through the first session I decided a specific lure would drum up even more interest than individual enticements. Next time I was back at the life drawing room I scribed a couple of large signs for us to brandish. Visitors could tell by our dress that we were part of the fête, but now they would know our purpose. Now they came to us.

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Luring and enticing, part I – Farida, © Farida

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Luring and enticing, part II – Amy and me

We were too successful. Even before 8pm Jon told me they were already at capacity and that we should start asking people to come to the next sessions from 8:30pm or 9:15pm. This we did, yet still they kept coming. The Academy had sold more than a thousand tickets for the fête; at best the life drawing room could hold 40 to 50 people.

Jon did tremendous work managing both the crowds and the timing of each pose, not to mention sticking to his script as MC for the event. Crowd control was aided by the nice happy-go-lucky attitude of everyone we spoke too. It was a gentle laidback party atmosphere. The models remained serenely professional throughout.

There was to be no lure for the final session. It was already over-subscribed, with RA staff managing a waiting list for people wanting to get in. The question was asked: if there are more people who would like to draw than can be fit in the life drawing room, would the volunteers be willing to model in the corridor outside? Of course we would. Not nude, but striking five-minute poses for anyone who wished to take advantage.

I stripped to my bow-tie and shorts for standing poses. Farida also stood, while Amy was seated on the floor. Hopefully Farida was comfortable as she had one gentleman drawing her throughout the entire session. Amy and I had a few people drawing us to start with, and Peter also joined us in the corridor, fully-clothed having finished as one of the main models.

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Peter, post-modelling, steps discreetly into the courtyard, © Peter

As one woman sat to draw me she cried, “come on, get ’em off.” Peter gave me a sly look, then turned back to the woman and cautioned, “you won’t have to ask him more than twice.” Nonetheless, more encouragement was forthcoming. I glanced both ways along the corridor, unbuttoned my shorts – beneath which I was commando – and got as far as lowering one side… “No, no, that’s enough!” she hastily implored. There’s an old saying that goes: ‘be careful what you wish for…’

She stuck to her task a made a pretty decent job of roughing me. I’m happy because even though I wasn’t there in a life modelling capacity, I can now rightly claim to have been drawn in pose at the Royal Academy of Art – a trifling disingenuous indulgence, but pleasing. I held one final pose alongside Peter until the life drawing room began to empty. All was done, and so were we.

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It’s me, captured with bow-tie and loosened shorts

The fête finished, we dressed and cleared away. Last man out was Jon. He had been outstanding as a source of calm authority, organisation and clear diction. Certainly he would be returning for Art Macabre, and maybe Amy would too. Her initial interest was as an artist – witness the extensive embellishments to her ‘life drawing’ sign – but by the end I think she’d got the modelling bug too.

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Amy prepares for a spot of modelling at the Royal Academy, © Farida

It had been a superb evening. All it was lacking – apart from the complimentary gins and tonic that we eyed enviously from afar – was Nikki herself, and Linsay and other Art Macabre regulars. I sincerely hoped that wherever they were, whatever they were doing, they’d had as much fun as ourselves.

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The team: Jon, Amy, Me, Kate, Peter, Farida and Elizabeth, © Jon for Art Macabre

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