Love, From Modena

“People think I’m disciplined. It is not discipline. It is devotion.
There is a great difference.”
Luciano Pavarotti

His mother worked in a cigar factory. His father was a baker. And the north central Italian city of Modena was the place where he was born in 1935. Seventy-one years later, after touring the world, touching millions, popularizing the art of opera like no one else, and reaching the highest heights of fame, Pavarotti would die in Modena, his birthplace, a contented man. Mighty medieval province of Modena. It is the sports car capital of the world – Italy’s “Motor City” – with Maserati, Lamborghini, and Ferrari calling the town home. Enzo Ferrari himself was born and raised in Modena. And then there’s the balsamic vinegar, which the artisans of Modena have been fermenting for hundreds of years. Sexy sports cars and balsamic vinegar are great of course, but Modena, Italy will forever hold as its most esteemed legacy, giving to the world the greatest tenor who ever lived.

The orange stucco rooftops of Modena:

A couple of weeks ago, I posed for open life drawing at the National Art League in Queens, a modeling gig I’ve been doing for over a decade. We turned on WQXR classical radio, as we often do, as a musical accompaniment. During my second 20 minute set, the transcendent voice of Pavarotti surged out of the speakers, and my eyes began to well up with tears. My reaction was not just the emotional response to his magnificent voice, although that certainly played a part. It was more than that. It elicited complex, painful feelings in me about what’s been going on in my life, namely familial relationships and revelations about those relationships that I still can’t fully accept or process. My mother no longer contacts me. She has, incredibly, removed herself from the sphere of my life and has, instead, decided to consign all her motherly love, loyalty, and attention over to her son. Her manipulative, self-serving son. He has brainwashed her, and it’s been distressing to witness over these past several months. It’s as if my mother has forgotten that she has TWO children, and whatever genuine, loving bonds used to exist in this dysfunctional family are now circling the drain.

Pavarotti’s voice is affecting not just because of its raw power, but also because of its purity, and by purity I mean love; the love that propels it through melody and dramatic arcs, in recording after recording, and live performance after live performance. Pavarotti stated many times in interviews that his sheer love of singing and desire to spread joy through music are what animated him. As I posed that night at the National Art League and my emotions stirred and tears dropped from eyes, I became intensely aware of the moment – where I was and what I was doing. It too was about love. I was modeling. Engaged in the livelihood that breathed new life into me 13 years ago and that I love with every fiber of my being. I was also in the presence of friends that I love, specifically my longtime friend Paul who was monitor for the session that night. Paul has shown me, in ways I won’t go into, what a thoroughly decent, upstanding, and genuine person he is. It’s an honor to know him. He is full of love.

At the Opera by Georges Jules Victor Clairin, 1900. I had to post this not just for the opera theme but, girl, those gloves! Rocking the whole outfit 🙂

Pavarotti’s quote about devotion strikes a chord with me in that it distills achievement, success, happiness, gratification  – whatever you want to call it – into a kind of simplicity.  And simplicity shouldn’t be a bad word. Relationships between people function best when the essence of their connection is solidly simple. How often do we hear of a break up because things “got complicated”? Or that someone felt the need to abandon a career because things “got complicated”? Devotion is love, and once love grasps us in its arms, our vision, purpose, and dedication become clearer. I don’t love art modeling because I’m good at it. I’m good at it because I love it. As a child of a working class family in Modena, Pavarotti could have become a small farmer, shoemaker, or vinegar fermenter. Those are all fine vocations. But his love steered him to singing, and it’s wholly evident in his voice. The love that once existed in my family has become tragically compromised – and made complicated – by one toxic person wielding his self-interest like a weapon. If only the simplicity of love had been upheld, and fought for, and acted upon free of bias, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But here we are.

In February of 1972, a 36 year old Pavarotti secured his place in opera immortality when he performed the aria “Ah! Mes amis, quell jour de fête!” from Donizetti’s comic opera La Fille du Regiment at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The aria contains a near impossible nine high C’s, which Pavarotti executed with inspired, love-drenched gusto. With devotion, if you will. The crowd went wild, and the young tenor was summoned back onstage for a record 17 curtain calls. Let’s listen to Pavarotti singing that aria for our Music Monday. It is not a live recording of that momentous night in 1972, but Pavarotti’s love and devotion are in full force. You can skip ahead to around 4:40 to get to the magic 🙂

Miss O’Hara on Hollywood

While the sight of disgraced, repulsive movie mogul Harvey Weinstein doing the ‘perp walk’ into a lower Manhattan police precinct was satisfying to some degree, many of us – and by ‘us’ I mean women – can’t quite bring ourselves to revel triumphantly over the recent developments. Oh sure we felt a heady dose of schadenfreude in seeing that prick in handcuffs. But powerful men are, and always will be, powerful men. They can afford expensive lawyers, have stooges working in pr and the media, and employ mafia-like tactics to shield themselves from accountability. This will never change. And if one douchebag falls, another one will rise and take his place. Maybe I’m just cynical. I don’t know. But I would suggest caution in labelling this moment in time as a watershed. I have a reason for this thinking but don’t want to go on a diatribe here.

Instead, I’d like to share this newspaper clipping of screen legend Maureen O’Hara from 1945 about her experiences with the men in Hollywood. This is 73 years ago, folks.

With nothing but respect for the male readers of this blog, because you guys are among the good ones and some of you are my real life friends and colleagues, I still need to emphasize what O’Hara is getting at here; that a great many men determine a woman’s worth based on her ‘fuckability’ and nothing else. Or her willingness to do it, and just give in to sexual demands. In the words of Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear“When a man says no it’s the end of the discussion. When a woman says no it’s the beginning of a negotiation”. Saying no to a man is like a class A felony in these jerks’ minds. Something unacceptable and almost incomprehensible. Because if a woman won’t pleasure them and satisfy their desires, then what’s the point of her existence??? She’s not even “a woman” at all, as O’Hara describes the attitude.

She sure looks like a woman to me. The Irish-born woman who starred in “How Green Was My Valley”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, and “The Quiet Man”.

Alphabet City with Fred

Today is the birthday of my very dear friend Fred Hatt. Happy Birthday Fred!!!! 🙂 Fred and I are both celebrating significant birthdays this year: 60 for him, 50 for me (July). So to commemorate our milestone decades we plan to prolong the party through the summer and deal with aging in the best possible way; by having fun, appreciating each other, and enjoying the big city we both call home.

Last Thursday night Fred and I attended an event in the East Village; “I Ching Alchemy” sculptures and video projection show by our mutual friend Lili White. It was held outdoors in Le Petit Versailles Garden between Avenue A and B – the section of downtown Manhattan known as ‘Alphabet City’. Nobody is better at converting dumpy urban lots into community gardens than East Villagers. They have a gift for it. The space of the Petit Versailles garden was, decades ago, an auto chop shop. Now it’s flower beds, trees, little rock-lined paths, pottery shards, empty picture frames, glass balls, mirrors, ribbons, strings of skull head lights, Tibetan figurines, loose tiles, and any quirky found object that occupies a spot. A busted ceramic urn? Stick it in there. It’s a garden folks, East Village style. The residents down there are fiercely civic-minded, and they will take care of things themselves if the city ignores them. Actually, they prefer it that way. And if raising rents force some thrift shop or vinyl record store out of business they have a collective meltdown 😆

Hanging out with Fred means seeing him suddenly whip out his camera to snap a photo. Nothing escapes this man’s eye! He spotted the shadow shapes that formed on the brick face of the building, just around dusk. With the warm glow of the light strings it created an interesting vision. So I took a photo myself:

The 1958 baby and the 1968 baby 🙂 Fred and I, selfie in the garden. My brilliant, beautiful best buddy whose friendship I value beyond words. The very first friend I made as an artist’s model.

Drawing of me by Fred from 2015. Created at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn:

It’s not a Music Monday but we’ll have a Music Tuesday instead! As Lili’s video installation projected onto the side of the building, a fantastic old song accompanied her images. A great choice that truly reflected the spirit of the evening. Please enjoy “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, a classic R&B song from 1975. Buoyant, catchy, uplifting, meaningful. So good. You’ll be up and dancing by the end. 🙂

A Visit to the Vet in Four Acts

Jessie the cat would like to share this photo essay with you 😆

“I don’t need a check-up. I feel fine. And I hate this stupid carrier.”

“Ugh. One of those yappy dogs is in the waiting room. If he comes near me I’m prepared to smack his snout.”

“They’re gonna take my temperature. And look at my teeth. I don’t need this.”

“Mommy? Whatever I did, I’m sorry. Please stop bringing me here, ok?”

Paintings and Parties

Hellooooo Museworthy!! The muse is here. You didn’t think I forgot about the blog, did you? Never! Still I apologize for the sparse postings. April is a very busy art modeling month so I’ve just been doing that, and paying taxes, and trying to attend yoga class when I can. One more hectic week coming up and then my schedule lightens up a bit and I can get back to more leisurely things like writing, gardening, and reading.

I’ve spent a good amount of time lately at the New York Academy of Art, the city’s foremost graduate school and MFA program. Last month I had the pleasure of modeling for a two-day Master Class taught by Steven Assael, during which he carried out one of his renowned painting demos. As I sat for the portrait, I observed as the students were quietly transfixed on Steven’s work. Not surprising, of course, as he is one of the most highly esteemed representational artists of his generation. And a really nice guy too. Great working with him.

In addition to master classes, thesis critiques, special lectures, and student open studio nights, the Academy was also gearing up for the Tribeca Ball, the school’s annual fundraiser where art world insiders, celebrities, and other glitterati come to mingle and get their pictures taken. I did not attend the Tribeca Ball (I’m not a glitterati!) but I did take pictures of the gallery while it was being prepared for the big night. This year’s theme was “Poetic Astronomy”, and the decor had an appropriately celestial feeling.

From the Academy’s Instagram page, some photos of the models who worked that night and the artists sketching:

I did attend a party that was less glamorous but just as much fun. A birthday party for my sister-in-law Gayle, just two weeks after she had hip replacement surgery! If you can imagine a 59 year old woman in a black evening dress playing hostess while limping around with a cane, that’s Gayle 🙂 Here’s a photo of me at the party with Gayle’s daughter, my lovely and hilarious niece Olivia.

Hope you’re all well, my friends. I’ll see you back here very soon 🙂

Longing for Home

“We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes …”
Madeleine L’Engle, The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth

My seated pose by Louise Peabody, gouache and pencil:

Stations of the Cross

Easter Sunday is almost here. It is the culmination of Holy Week for Christians and the day of the year that fills church pews, brings out bonnets and chocolate bunnies and colorful spring flowers, organizes Easter egg hunts and feasts of food. But it is Good Friday which distinguishes itself in liturgy and worship. Good Friday is heavy. It’s solemn and mournful. In most Christian denominations, Good Friday services mean clergy and acolytes dressed in solid black vestments, plain wooden crosses, bare bones altars stripped of adornments, no uttered Hallelujahs or friendly glad-handing. Many people attend church to experience a day of joyful worship. Good Friday is not that day.

I’m aware that readers of this blog comprise various religious beliefs and lack of religious beliefs entirely. It’s all good. I would point out, however, that Good Friday presents timeless subjects that any thoughtful person might contemplate in their moments of deep reflection, awareness, and questioning; the execution of an innocent man, the corruption of political and religious authorities, the menace of a raging, bloodthirsty mob.

Good Friday service at my church, with our priest Father Laurence Byrne:

An integral part of Good Friday services is Stations of the Cross, in which worshippers follow Jesus’ harrowing path from his death decree ordered by Pontius Pilate, to his crucifixion, to his burial, and stop for prayer at each point. Churches display plaques, relief sculptures, paintings, crosses, or any artwork to mark each station. At my church, All Saints Episcopal Church in Queens, NY, our stations are marked by framed drawings created by our church’s children over the years. And they are superb. I thought I’d share some of them here for my Easter blog post. Sometimes I feel like I admire children’s artwork more than any Rembrandt or Degas.

I offer my warmest wishes for a blessed Easter, blessed Passover, and restorative spring season! May you all rejoice in new life, new birth, grace, and salvation.

Love one another …

Always,
Claudia