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Mall Galleries, London, 11 December 2015

29 December 2015

Hi!” came a call from the middle of The Mall. I’d been waiting three or four minutes outside the Mall Galleries when, at the very moment I had straddled a lamp in the pavement to begin idly taking selfies, Esther swept beneath Admiralty Arch on her bicycle. She wheeled across to my side of the road and we shared a moment before entering the galleries together.

Esther is allowed to take her bike inside – she’s well respected round these parts.

Part 1 – hello Hesketh Hubbard

We were present as two of six models booked to pose for Hesketh Hubbard Art Society in what would be their final life drawing evening of the year. Within the Main Gallery there would be a clothed portrait model at one end; a nude model providing 15-minute poses at the other; with Esther and me composing half-hour nude poses together in the middle.

Beyond our sight in the adjoining Threadneedle Gallery, two more nude models would sit for the single ‘long’ pose. Sessions usually last two-hours in total but, it being Christmastime, there would be just an hour of art on this occasion with a buffet and wine to follow. Esther showed me around the public spaces, and the storage rooms for life drawing paraphernalia behind the scenes.

The difference in our prior experiences at Mall Galleries could not have been greater. This being my début, I entered with a mixture of enthusiastic excitement and a tinge of trepidation. Esther, by contrast, is a veteran here and was greeted with genuine affection. It was quite moving to see artist after artist welcome her with such warmth; the profession of life model is not so detached as sometimes it is portrayed.

Part 2 – pose and predicament

With time to spare before our 6pm start, we set about practising two poses – one standing, one sitting – that would offer respectable views to all in the circle around us. Some artists stepped forward to offer suggestions and make requests. For example, we’d intended to be wrapped around each other for the standing pose, but deferred to a request for slight separation so the full lines of our bodies would be exposed.

We made our space comfortable and began the first pose promptly at six. Esther stood on a bench while I was beside her on the floor. As I nestled close beneath her armpit we savoured this rare reversal in our physical relationship. Inevitably over the course of half an hour there was some infinitesimal swaying between us. I thought I detected some muttering from one observer but generally we made a favourable start.

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Time calls came after 15 and 30 minutes. Upon the latter we changed position. Esther was seated upright with her legs tucked under her on one side while I curled my body around her, knees bent towards her back, and eyes meeting her gaze, with my head propped upon one hand. It was a pose we’d tested with ease before the start, yet one small misjudgement was to make it a veritable ordeal of prolonged discomfort for me.

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My simple mistake concerned the arm that carried the burden of my up-tilted head. I’d inadvertently set it such that its elbow was overhanging the cushions upon which I lay, rather than being supported by them. Consequently, the combined weight of my arm, skull and supposed-brain was borne by my own biceps. Neck muscles stayed taut in an attempt to relieve the arm, and even my legs were tensed as a counterbalance.

For the first five minutes, Esther and I were beaming indulgently at each other. Then the physical stress began to assert itself…

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As the minutes dragged and the pain increased, so my expression went from smiling to blank, to strained concentration, and finally an etched grimace. It was unpleasant viewing for Esther, whose own face reflected concern and empathetic distress. We whispered words of consolation to each other. When at last the hour was called, my trembling arm collapsed and I slumped backwards in relief.

Part 3 – mingle and munch

For a time afterwards we sat in a warm embrace whilst artists approached in turn to thank us for our efforts. It seemed the suffering was not in vain – our exertions were received with broad enthusiasm, and there was some keenness that we be booked again next year. When ready, we dressed and made our way to the buffet table for snacks and wine. We were indulged to slip ahead of the queue, and were grateful.

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A little networking followed as we bantered with fellow models, artists and organisers. Esther circulated more widely with postcards that promoted her forthcoming Spirited Bodies event, while I sat in conversation or flitted back and forth, harvesting the buffet. People began drifting into the night and in time we followed, wheeling Esther’s bike to Charing Cross station in search of a southbound train. Job done.

From an evening of pleasure and pain, pleasure had won through.

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From → Art

One Comment
  1. boykog permalink

    “….As the minutes dragged and the pain increased, so my expression went from smiling to blank, to strained concentration, and finally an etched grimace. It was unpleasant viewing for Esther, whose own face reflected concern and empathetic distress. We whispered words of consolation to each other. When at last the hour was called, my trembling arm collapsed and I slumped backwards in relief…”

    Commiseration Steve, I happened to be in the same pose once (apart from Esther’s presence), and it was the longest, hardest in my modelling life. 45 minutes of pain and physical distress. I believe Esther must have used The Force to alleviate the pain to some bearable level though…

    Congratulations…

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