The Trials and Tableaux of Tanner Street

I wanted to cancel a week before; there just wasn’t enough interest. From models or artists. It was a very painful feeling, tinged with failure, just when I had felt like things were getting back on track. I’d quit smoking a couple of days earlier, and emotions were rising to the surface, after a year or so’s burial. Most of my ambition stifled in a dense cloud, while I stumbled vaguely forward. A sleepless night of crying in my lover’s arms. But I picked up the reins the next day and did some more emails.

A few days before and still not enough women to model, let alone artists to make it seem worth finding the women. All I could rely on was faith, and perhaps a few reliable supporters and friends. Meetings with Alessandra, who was helping to prepare the women’s session, and Sarah who was again bringing her healing sounds, got me fired up again. Sarah and I practised an exercise on her living room floor, lying connected soles to souls. We made our own sounds in rhythm with ourselves and each other, and I felt my face energised, vibrant, while our soles tingled together. Alessandra showed me the gestures connected to different organs, according to Chinese medicine, the basis of her instruction, and I knew that I could make a movement pose work from one of those.

Still I was sleepless in anticipation, but Saturday I completed all necessary tasks for preparation. Stocking up on art materials, checking in with people helping, finalising the pose schedule and booking the taxi. My last email done, I was ready to open some wine when a piece of news arrived which gravely triggered me. I plunged into an abyss of self-doubt and debilitating darkness.

One of the hardest things I have found with Spirited Bodies, is that I give opportunities to people who actually have a lot higher status than I do, say in their careers and earning power. They’ve ‘got it all’, except body confidence, confidence in dating and relationships, or a groovy artist’s lifestyle! And that’s where I come in. I have those things, yet not with qualifications to command a high fee for imparting my wisdom. So I give it away; they transform their lives for a few hours and a few quid, but can I have a piece of their success? It hasn’t happened yet. That’s ok though, because one thing Spirited Bodies has given me, is some really good friends. And that is more valuable to me than travelling the world, having children, a house etc.

There is something I do covet however. Not fame exactly, but recognition (a little more than I currently have), and so the possibility to expand, to relax a little and work less as a life model on a weekly basis.

When the morning came, I was in a state I had not yet experienced prior to doing one of my events. I was raw for sure, on edge in a way reminiscent of myself quite some years ago. It wasn’t a happy place to revisit, but I did remember how utterly wrecked and desolate I had once been more often in my life. Thank goodness it felt almost unfamiliar now. And I had the tools, the know-how, just about, to pick myself up, dust myself off, and muster some impression of togetherness. Just enough.

Sabine picked me up at 8:45am and we loaded the car full of cushions, paper, gowns, sheets, foam… She was perky and I was grateful for girl time. It was a miserable day on all counts, but she shared jolly tales of parties with flatmates, screaming rock tunes with her singing teacher, and learning guitar. We arrived early and found breakfast in Rope Street, before our venue was opened, and we could start setting up.

My rougher edges started to smooth over once we’d done the basics, turning on heaters, buying refreshments for models and artists, unpacking the gear, and, women started to arrive ahead of time. Alessandra was nowhere in sight, but there were women, and that really was all that mattered, apart from a warm room, almost compromised by yet again, dodgy electrics. Sabine and I were on the case, swapping cables, rearranging the room so that posing happened nearer the heat, handing out robes and making sure enough people were naked for the start time. Women artists were ready to draw, and they needed muses.

3 Graces to begin
3 Graces to begin

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Alessandra joined us Italian time and took over the programme, in time for Sabine and I to once again, fix the electrics. Heating models in Winter in atmospheric buildings, always a challenge. Ursula was with us too now, and added oomph to the poses, which Aless was otherwise keeping strict Chinese style. Focused on the internal organs with meditation and specific sounds which models made together with each pose, this was a journey through the inner body. Instead of worrying about how big their bums looked, models tuned into their liver, spleen and lungs for several minutes each.

massaging the third eye, holding the kidneys
massaging the third eye, holding the hara, or centre

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Ursula by the window
Ursula by the window

 

By now, my fear had faded, and at least this part of the day was going well. I could rejoice in that, though there was no time to spare. Not long after 1pm, we had to wrap up, and transfer everything to the larger space, because, however many people showed up for the mixed session, we would have to accommodate Sarah’s gongs and other instruments. There was no way they were going in the small room we had fitted the women’s session into.

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Cliff was arriving with easels, and Steve with fuses as we had bust about four in the morning. Sarah was lifting singing bowls up the stairs with the help of her husband and daughter. I fetched a few easels in my dressing gown from the street. Artists were arriving, and I was aware of the sharp juxtaposition between the nutter I had been the night before, on the verge of some wayward collapse, longing to be sucked into the ground, and the switched on artiste now commandeering the Spirited Bodies ship with a brilliant smile!

Sometimes I was smiling, or just wired
Sometimes I was smiling, or just wired

2pm rocked on, and it was time to get some poses afoot. I called out for nakedness, and some of the usual suspects lurched towards the sheeted arena. A few new faces gladly glided forwards too. For the first 15 minutes we were doing dynamic poses inspired by the emotions of the Lungs – continuing from the morning’s lesson. Moving through sadness to joy, the models opened up in stages, from 1 minute of grief, then 2, 3, 4 and 5 minutes into exhilaration. Sarah crashed a cymbol, rang a few bells and blew on a flute.

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Secondly it was the Kidneys for 25 minutes. I instructed models to either cower in fear, or stand tall and strong with courage.

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It would have been Liver next, but that was going to involve a lot of gongs (anger), and we’d been asked to keep the noise down during that phase for an event downstairs. So I led a slow movement sequence to the rhythm of the Heart. Standing in formation, me at the front, they copied as I moved my arms extremely slowly (think tai chi slowed down a lot) from hands placed on the heart, to raised high in the air. And repeat, for 15 minutes, raising and lowering, while Sarah made her heartbeat drum noise. I knew I was going slow when Steve called out halfway through. We’d only opened up twice I think. I was conscious that while I regularly do slow movement poses for my work, am considered a specialist, the new models may be struggling with the pace. Nevertheless, they could probably work something out, and I’d suggested if it was a bit hard, to just rest their hands on their heart.

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Hands on Heart
Hands on Heart

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After that, it was teatime, and at this point there was no doubt about it. It was a success; I was a success. It was just a good feeling and such a massive relief. Mainly that people had showed up. I have confidence in my ability to perform and make sure people have a good time, I just need an audience or a class, or both. Marketing isn’t my strong point, and I am so bent on authenticity that social media eludes me quite a lot. It was time to collect dosh and Steve took some pictures of the pictures. Everyone else had tea and biscuits.

With a slight cast change, we returned to posing, now ready for half an hour of Liver. I told models they could change poses at will, but try to be moderate, afterall, we do want to get drawn. I was having a fight with Steve, our arms locked in an arch, under which I could look up at his face. He was pulling the most extraordinary fashion of expressions, and through my exhaustion and exhilaration, I found it hilarious! We’d come a long way in just over 2 months, and he was supporting me magnificently. Halfway through the pose, Sarah came crashing in from silence with gongs. My arms were aching trying to reach up to Steve’s even-bent-over posture so tall. I fell into him as if frustratedly attacking his towering frame. He kept me in place, leaning over and watching me.

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For the Spleen, we did 20 minutes of each of us posing as if sympathising with, or blaming the artists, so a direct confrontation or connection. I sat tentatively at the back, looking sweetly at the guy who was shaping us all out of a long piece of wire. We haven’t had that before, he normally makes large floor drawings on a big roll. His wire constructions were genius and I was fascinated. Also I had had enough of being angry in one 12 hour period.

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Sarah left her instruments to lead the next exercise. For the Triple Warmer, she had 2 pairs of models lying sole to sole as we had practised before. They were next to each other, and above them 2 other pairs, including me and Steve, formed arches, palms on palms. We were all sounding first ee sounds, and later ooh sounds, alternating, sometimes leaving spaces in order to feel the shifts in our bodies, between vibrations. The group of 8 models collectively created a human resonator. Sarah was the 8th model, and for the first time in her life, her second time in a life session (the first being Spirited Sound), she whipped off her dress after instructing us, to complete the nude composition. We hadn’t arranged this, I am not about putting pressure on newcomers, but it was a welcome surprise. I’d told her she could be dressed if she preferred. The mood had taken her not to be.

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About halfway through (we’d asked an artist to time us), those of us standing were feeling the ache in our arms, and were grateful when Sarah decided to drop her arms, as if it had been planned. By mutual consensus we all followed suit.

The final pose was freestyle, and there were now 6 of us posing. Within the 6, there were 2 couples who naturally after the long session’s posing, fell into each others’ arms for some amorous duos. Alessandra grabbed the remaining male model and said, “Look, it’s all about the couples, so we should join up!” Everyone’s a winner!

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We ended on a round of applause, and I couldn’t be happier with today’s result. It was totally unprecedented after my night of headfuckery. The hard work had paid off. We cleared up, models bonded, and artists laid their works on the floorboards. Artist Steve Carey hung his wire creations from coat hangers. I was still in my dressing gown, saying goodbye to people till just before our cab arrived. The teacups had been rinsed, drawing boards replaced downstairs, and every last piece of charcoal boxed and bagged. Off we trundled into Sunday evening traffic. Once home, the last few hours at home with Steve before he left again for Essex, were precious. Healing time, after a tumultuous night earlier. Now the love was strong again. I was sorry for having been so difficult, after all he had never known me before in such an anxious moment. It felt unfair to have unleashed myself rather unduly on him, especially when he has only been positive and loving towards me. The awkward emotions weren’t important now. Just the kindness and gratitude for all that we share. I may not be succeeding in every way that I would like to, yet, but there is time. We are still new together, and all the magic that we can create, has only just begun.

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Developing in the Workshop

Having a smaller, more intimate group with whom to practise life modelling and instruction therein is a most gratifying bonus. It can be a safer place to start a journey towards more intense life modelling. There is even the possibility to practise posing without having removed clothes. There is not the usual atmosphere of focused concentration, since several participants are not primarily concerned with drawing even though they are giving it a go. Also Lucy and I are apt to cut in and mention during a pose something pertaining to it or ask the models how they are finding it. Between poses as well we bring up different matters relating to posing, and each new pose is introduced with an idea, for example, energetic connection between models rather than physical (models rarely pose alone) as well as a theme. We may try for a naturalistic pose or a more abstract one that is centred on form rather than gesture. Models sometimes come with their own ideas too, especially those with some experience. Indeed last time Richard Moon took part who has modelled for many years and he was most excited as this is his first time in 15 years of modelling that he has had an opportunity to pose with others. Like Lucy he shares a passion for recreating ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, amongst other classical images. He even brings several sheafs of laminated images of poses to present to artists he may work with to help them pick out ideas they are keen to try. Like a catalogue one artist observed!

Four of the models from the recent event in Battersea attended this last workshop and together with Richard, they outnumbered the entirely new models. This created an atmosphere of enhanced confidence. There was not the usual energy of nerves and anxiety present because the right kind of warm and excited (because it is mostly newly found) confidence is contagious. The new models looked less nervous than usual, but this may also have been down to their personalities. One is an artist I met when modelling at a group in Holborn, so he is quite familiar with the set up of a life drawing class. He wrote his own blog piece about the experience; http://repulsivemonkey.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/life-modelling.html

Another development was the presence of a few experienced artists who were not there to model but to appreciate a variety of short poses by a number of models as well as provide some generally better quality art work. I think they also appreciate the unusual insight into the model’s experience as we talk through the nature of poses and demands of modelling.

Lucy took some fabulous pictures of the art work and posted them on Facebook; http://www.facebook.com/media/set/ One particular picture of 4 models pretending to wait for a bus has become an instant favourite and I think it has been sold! Lily LeMaire the artist insisted it was just a sketch, but sometimes that is all it takes.

The next workshop will be on Wednesday 28th November at Battersea Library again, 7 – 9pm. We look forward to seeing a range of models and some artists hopefully.

Part 2 of my Interview with a New Model & more images from Notting Hill

I always find it refreshing to hear from those newer to life modelling what it is they find so exciting about it. For Liz it was many things – the way that modelling encourages you to be just the way you are. Whichever body type you are, that is what you accentuate. You cannot hide from yourself. She has long felt her bottom to be too large, disproportionate to the rest of her figure. As a life model her bottom becomes a feature which artists consider her best part, to be shown off.

Liz has only modelled twice; once at Spirited Bodies and once for an artist who met her at Mortlake. She likes the way it makes you want to look after your body so that you do feel good about presenting it. This is a positive side effect I agree, and something I sometimes forget. It’s nice to be maintaining my body not just for myself or a lover, but for all the people I work with too.

A greater interest in art was another plus offset by life modelling Liz found. She wants to see what artists look for and what has been done before.

She has a strong idea about the professionalism involved in life modelling, largely due to being advised by Morimda. She says that the model should never embarress an artist. Many poses for example, could be erotic or not depending on your facial expression. By behaving in a very straight way, you avoid any confusion or awkwardness. This is again something I have just gotten used to. Life modelling I think has allowed me to regain a sort of innocence, since I am not about making erotic art particularly but do love to be expressive and am naturally quite a sexy person. Thinking about it, that is a big gift, to be myself unselfconsciously.

At Spirited Bodies Liz says, you learn from watching others model. First you do a simple pose, then you see someone else do something more free and expressive. Now she thinks of asking artists what they would like to see in her. This is a good tactic; personally I have several ways I can pose or styles, and I know that some artists prefer natural looking poses while others like extremely posed positions. It can be worth checking how they roll or if there is something in particular they are looking for.

Liz feels more aware of her own beauty now because of displaying herself. She is always looking for new inspiration artistically, and she is enthused by the way that every artist can show her something new about herself. Just as every model brings a position out in different ways.

This piece will be continued, and here follows some more images from Spirited Bodies at Notting Hill Visual Arts Festival.

rugby scrum!
pen and ink
on top of a pile of bodies (undrawn) posed these 2 sirens holding a flower!
from below (models were raised on a platform)
again the scrum – 5 or 10 minute pose
back to back in a circle
women on top of bodies!
Hooray for colour
the corpses below
This artist made very large paintings on the floor which I loved watching her do. I don’t think they come out so well on here unfortunately