As Esther knows, I’ve long wanted to do a Spirited Bodies using ‘The Raft of the Medusa‘ as the inspiration point. Reluctantly accepting reality, I know that this is not an appropriate re-enactment for inexperienced models, the poses involved are tough and hard to hold. Tonight, I was modelling for Lucy Sullivan’s evening class at Kingston University. Lucy and I have history together, I enjoy working with her because she is one of the tutors that encourages my desire to create challenging and intriguing poses, using props to the max. She’s never forgotten working with me for the first time, with the University of the Arts London student life drawing group. She insists that I posed with a chair on my head. This may very well be true, a chair on the head is not unusual for me.
Tonight, I am sick with a horrid head cold, sneezing and generally feeling miserable and definitely weak and feeble. I am thinking that I will do only simple low stress poses. There is a donkey, a small bench that allows an artist to sit on it, while the front part can be propped up to form an easel. Its about two foot high and under 4 foot long. Hmm. I’m thinking about the possibilities. We start with short poses, 5 and 10 minutes, and I start thinking about the Raft of the Medusa, lie on the donkey with one knee up, one leg dangling over the other, my head off the end of the donkey and an arm hanging down into space. Apart from a 30 minute reclining pose, I stick to my muse. I stand looking for the ship on the horizon, I clamber over the donkey, I sprawl, as corpse-like as possible, across it. I am re-enacting at least 17 different bodies, dead and alive, the artists don’t know that – well, they wouldn’t if only I stopped saying ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ with glee as I land in another contorted way. The artists have to cope with lots of unusual foreshortenings, trust their eyes not their head’s interpretation of what a human body is like. Everyone is happy.
The images created show that, while I might have been thinking corpses and crowded rafts, the artists were working on their own ideas. That’s one of the things I most like about modelling – you create a pose and the artist creates their work, somewhere between the two is transformation. It happened at the last workshop we did on Sunday – 3 people were given an everyday drama and created something artistic. LaDawn had nicked Carlos’ parking space, they were arguing about it, and David was the peace maker. Out of this mundane beginning, they formed a pose that could have come out of a Caravaggio of a religious scene. LaDawn standing, shaking her finger at Carlos, who, on one knee, one arm up entreating, and David with arms outstretched, touching both of them in a clear gesture of reconciliation. Enacting a scene is liberating, helps you think of poses that mean something through their stance and gesture, and this gives the artists something extra. Posing for artists is about more than just lounging about naked – its about evoking presence.
Lucy Sullivan, tonight’s tutor, attended one Spirited Bodies workshop and gave great feedback to the participants about their poses and how artists might react to them. She said that the Spirited Bodies models, all amateur and new to it, were better than professional models she’d booked for her class. She’d had one model recently who wouldn’t keep still in any pose, and irritated all the artists. She said that the people modelling at the workshop came up with good poses which they held, were still and a pleasure to draw, and she’d like to work with them again if they wished to after their Spirited Bodies experience. There could be no better recommendation. The artists coming on Saturday 20 October are in for a treat.
Looking again at the Raft of the Medusa, I can see that I got the arms the wrong way round for the man spotting the ship on the horizon and there were some more twisty poses that I missed out. I shall have another go another time. Some of the images are creased, that’s because the artists had thrown them away – life drawing for artists is like doing scales and arpeggios is for musicians, an essential way of keeping in practice, maintaining and developing technique, a building block not the end itself. I rather like rootling round in the rubbish bin after an evening’s posing, you never know what you will find. Sometimes you are amazed at what artists will throw away – other times equally amazed at what they will keep.