The Garden, 1986

Have you ever sat third row/center at a concert? I did, once. When you’re accustomed to seeing your favorite bands from the nosebleed seats a football field-length away from the action, the third row is an experience like nothing else. Exactly how my friend Faby and I managed to snag such prime seats for the Prince concert at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1986, I honestly can’t recall. But I can tell you it wasn’t through the box officeūüėČ

How can I describe that night seeing Prince perform live? Mesmerizing. Groovy sounds and glittering lights. A rush of adrenaline and shocks of electricity. Shiny instruments, colored smoke, thumping rhythms and sumptuous vocals. Prince’s female bandmates riffing, soloing, being utter badasses. Satin and lace. Funk and psychedelic. A legendary arena packed to the brim with the most diverse crowd of concert-goers I’ve ever seen; 15 year olds and 40 year olds, a Brooklyn Italian guy over here, a Bronx Puerto Rican woman over there. A Manhattan East Side professional, and a gaggle of girls from Long Island. Good kids and troublemakers. City and suburban. Screaming, perspiring, standing on seats and singing along with the lyrics. Prince was, in a word, spellbinding. ¬†A 5’2″ dynamo of talent, charisma, and originality.¬†

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But allow me to share the single most unforgettable detail of that night, one that I can easily replay in my mind like five frames of a film reel because, when you’re 18 years old, this kind of thing burns an indelible imprint in your memory, along with the thrills and chills that accompany it. Prince was dancing at edge of the stage. Faby and I, like I mentioned before, were in the third row. Prince was right there … so damn close it felt like if I had stood on the back of my chair I could launch right into him with one full throttle leap. The fabric of his jacket, the scarves, boots … right there .. right in front us. And then, on the downbeat of the music, he froze for two seconds .. and made eye-contact with me .. and smiled … and … WINKED!!!!! Yes!!! YES HE DID!! Faby turned to me, her mouth wide open, and the teenage girl-screams came forth in crazy shrieks. “Prince winked at you!!! Did you see that??!! Oh my God!!!!!!!”.¬†Thirty years later I can still it, vividly¬†– Prince’s big brown eye looking directly into mine. Annnnndd … W I N K !!!!! It’s my giddy, cherished memory, and no one can take it away from me.

Lest you think that Prince was an indiscriminate winker, I was wearing a purple halter top with my boobs half hanging out, and huge dangly earrings, and 25 bracelets going up my forearm, and waving my hands in the air and blowing him overt kisses all night long. So I’m fairly comfortable saying that I :ahem: got his attention. Mission: accomplishedūüėČ

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When the news broke of Prince’s death, my Mom sent me a text: “Awful news about Prince. I know you loved him from the very beginning”. Mom is right, because “very beginning” for fans like me means pre-Purple Rain. When his fame blew up and hit the mainstream, we weren’t the least bit surprised. We had recognized his talents.

In the midst of all the “grief porn” flooding the Internet, and the pretentious “thinkpieces” being penned by “cultural critics” (or whatever we’re supposed to call these people) let’s have a different take and consider the impressive state of Prince’s life when he left us at the age of 57. He died having the staunch respect and admiration of his musical peers and colleagues. He died having the loyalty of his faithful, devoted fans. He died having found spiritual enlightenment and religious awakening. And, after the epic legal battle he waged against his record company Warner Bros, he died owning his own masters – no small feat in the notoriously rapacious music business. Although fiercely private, Prince revealed himself in the way all true artists do – through his art. Over the course of his long career, we witnessed him evolve from a raunchy, seductive lothario to a teetotaling Jehovah’s Witness, metamorphosing through the personal stages of his life with the same mastery and imagination with which he navigated all styles of music. And he remained, always, a consummate musician, prolific producer, arranger, performer and songwriter. Influential. Inventive. Enigmatic. Often mystifying. We know we won’t see the likes of Prince anytime soon, if ever.

Special condolences should be expressed, by all Prince fans, to the people in and around the Minneapolis area. They lost a fellow Minnesotan, a native son, a neighbor, a supporter of the community and its music scene. When celebrities reach Prince’s level of fame and success, many of them move to a mansion in Beverly Hills, a beach house in Malibu, or a penthouse in New York. But Prince stayed right where he came from.

And no there’s nothing wrong with your tablet or your computer …. this blog post is written in purple font. Your eyes don’t deceive you!¬†Now you probably think it isn’t possible to “out-cool” Lenny Kravitz, but here’s Prince doing just that. (Sorry Lenny). Watch him shred at 4:47. This is Music Monday. Rest in Peace, purple one … and thanks for the winkūüėČ

Who is H.M. Hartshorne?

When I was posing for a portrait class recently at Grand Central Atelier,¬†a pencil drawing in the studio caught my eye. The artwork on the walls of GCA is a combination of student work and high resolution copies of academic figure drawings from books. But this one was a genuine, original framed drawing from days past. My eyes kept glancing over at it, hanging on the far side of the room, as I was really struck by the model’s statuesque pose, as well as the artist’s skilled rendering. I told myself that once my break came, I’d walk over to get a closer look.

The photo I took with my phone isn’t great, as there were studio lights glaring onto the glass and objects reflecting. But I think you can see pretty well the excellence of this piece. I’m quite taken with it. The artist was looking at the model in an upward angle, and the shadows under the chin and breasts are beautiful. And her pose … so expressive. A contrapposto with a turned head and elegantly active arm/hand gesture. Well done. Just ignore the flash spot on the thigh!

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The signature in the bottom right reads, “H.M. Hartshorne. Paris 1896”. The artist’s name wasn’t familiar to me. Have any of you ever heard of him? I turned to Google and the results were mostly unproductive. No Wikipedia page, no bio anywhere, no listing in any of the art resource sites I use. I was able to find out that H.M. Hartshorne stands for Howard Morton Hartshorne, and that he was a New York based artist who worked from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. This AskArt page¬†is the closest I could find to any kind of bio.¬†Then, I came across this –> the drawing! On an art auction site!¬†There she is.

I assume that the drawing was acquired, at some point, by Grand Central’s founder and director Jacob Collins. I suppose I could ask him about it the next time I’m at the school. It’s easy to see how this figure drawing fits in perfectly with Grand Central’s classically-inspired tradition and commitment to the timeless aesthetic of figurative art. We models would be unemployed without itūüėČ

Backstabber

It was probably ill-advised, because yes even experienced life models make ill-advised decisions on occasion. During a session at¬†Minerva Durham’s new drawing studio on Broome Street, after a few sets of short poses, the time had come for me to do a 20 minute. I had been blabbing with the artists during the break and hadn’t even taken a moment to plan out my next pose. So when the timer buzzed to signal the end of the break I tossed off my gown, hopped onto the platform and sprawled out in a twisty, arched back reclining pose. I reached back to grab my ankle, because I’m a lunatic. If my thoracic spine could speak it would’ve said, “Girrrlll, WTF are you doing???” I used no pillow, no cushion…. just me on the hard platform. I figured I’d just power through the 20 minutes and get it over with (my fellow art models know exactly what I’m talking about). And I felt pretty fine during the pose. Same old same old, been there, done that … for ten years now, like an old pro. So no worries, right? Well, when the timer buzzed again at the end of the 20 minutes, I began to gently unravel myself. And the moment I attempted to straighten my torso from the weird, contorted mess I had created … it happened ….¬†AAAHHHHHH!!! Ow ow ow ow … noooo!!!!! No no no no … don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Stop! Stop! Please!.. I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m sorry God for everything bad I’ve ever done … I’ll never do any of it again! I apologize!!! Mind you, this¬†wasn’t the typical art model’s “ouchy” discomfort that we regularly experience as part of the job. We’re used to that. This was a searing, ghastly torture. Like a serrated knife jammed in my back. This was pent up musculoskeletal rage getting its revenge on me after years of bodily abuse.¬†My baaaack!!!! ūüė°

As the artists got up from their chairs to stretch on the break (which amuses us models) I remained reclined on the platform, staring up at the ceiling, moving my individual body parts ever so slowly while still bargaining with God to just, please, let me stand up straight. I did. But then I had to bend over to put on my gown, and the back knife got in one final jab when I did that …¬†I’m not done with you yet, woman! Bam!

Man, what the hell was I thinking? I should know better. But I’m a fool about 40% of the time in my life … so there’s that.

Vaintas (detail) by Leo Putz, 1896:

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The number of people who suffer from back pain is, what, eight zillion or something? So there’s nothing special about me, except perhaps that I’m a full time artist’s model. There are other professions that entail truly back-breaking work, of course. And I suppose that too many of us take our backs for granted. Whether it’s brought about by improper lifting, lack of exercise, or even sleeping on a bad mattress, back pain is a total drag. Mine is in my upper back, between the shoulder blades, and it’s not going away. I lifted some plates to place them on a high shelf in my kitchen … ouch! There it was. I raised my arm in the shower to use the hand held shower head … ouch! There it was. I bent over to pick up a FedEx box outside my front door … ouch! There it was, again. My new “friend”.

A Female Nude, watercolor, Anders Zorn:

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Just three days after the back attack I was back on Broome Street, modeling for a full session long pose. Seated, holding myself up straight, nothing wild or crazy, I managed fine … and I’m grateful. My friend¬†Jean Marcellino was there and she created this lovely pastel:

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I had an appointment with a physical therapist today, and he told me not to be alarmed. It was my first time ever having PT. He worked on my vertebrae and crunched me and thumped on me and did a lot of manipulation. Not bad! I hope this works, because I have more modeling to do. A lot more:-)

Pietàs of Passion

The word “piet√†” means “pity” in Italian. Its Latin origin translates into “piety” or “duty”. In art, a Piet√†¬†is any representation of Mary mourning the dead body of the crucified Christ. It is a scene of powerful emotional import. If other figures from the New Testament are also depicted, the work is often called “Lamentation”. On this Good Friday, a collection of pietas for my readers.

The pietà subject presents many options for artists, both compositionally and stylistically. Some are horizontal, others are vertical. Some depict the body of Christ with blood and wounds, while others omit them in favor of an unscathed figure. Some emphasize the pain, agony, and grief of the moment, while others take an almost serene, quietly mournful approach.

We’ll start with the archetype, the piet√† that sets the standard for all others; Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpiece located in St. Peter’s Basilica. Completed in 1499, and carved from a single slab of Carrara marble, it is the only work by Michelangelo that he ever signed. It received much criticism for its portrayal of an impossibly youthful Mary, who appears far too young to be the mother of a 33 year old man. But Michelangelo defended his choice. Designed in a pyramid shape, Michelangelo’s Piet√†¬†is considered a foremost example of Renaissance sculpture:

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One of my favorite pietas is this painting by Annibale Carracci, 1600. The hand gesture of Mary is an extraordinary detail, and I love the lights and darks:

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Piet√†,¬†1876, is presented in the French academic style for which the artist is known. Mary stares straight ahead, surrounded by sorrowful angels:

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A striking Piet√†¬†by Luis de Morales, 1570. Again, the prominent placement of Mary’s hands.

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Andrea Del Sarto, 1524, oil on wood. Christ’s face is barely visible here, as the surrounding figures seem to dominate the composition:

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A surrealist Piet√†¬†from Salvador Dali who clearly modeled this work after Michelangelo. His works of religious themes are really impressive. I’m a huge fan. I posted his Ascension of Christ here a few years ago:

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Sebastiano del piombo’s Piet√†, ca 1515, takes a different approach, with Christ lying flat on the ground as Mary prays:

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Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, 1485, in tempera by Carlo Crivelli, is a fine example of the early Renaissance style:

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Pietà by Moretto da Brescia, ca. 1530. Sorrow and pain come across in the facial expressions and gestures:

Moretto da Brescia (Italian, 1498 - 1554 ), Pietà, 1520s, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection

The desolate landscape works to great effect here in this Pietà, 1854, by the superb symbolist painter Gustave Moreau:

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And here’s something you won’t see in any museum. A “pieta” on the streets of New York. Spring Studio‘s Minerva Durham plays Mary to a Jesus acted out by artist’s model and dancer Magic Distefano, in the middle of Lafayette Street. That’s Andrew Bolotowsky on flute. There wasn’t a music accompanist at Calvary, but there is in SoHo:

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To all my readers, a blessed Easter weekend … lift up your hearts in rebirth, renewal, the coming of spring, and light everlasting …

Love you all:-)

Claudia

Crazy Cat Lady

It was about six years ago when a pillowy, brindle colored stray female cat started hanging out my garden. She was one of most lovable cats I’d ever met. I fed her and, naturally, she never left. I named her Jessie, and she’s still with me:-)

Jessie spends most of her time outside but never roams far. When I call her from the kitchen door steps she appears usually within three minutes. We’ve been through a lot together – ¬†surly male cats trespassing on Jessie’s turf, raccoons, vet appointments for her bronchitis, Hurricane Sandy. These days I give her daily meds and spoil her with a superb diet. I took this picture of her just after she finished scarfing down a can of brisling sardines. Look at that pink tongue!

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And here’s a quick charcoal sketch of me by my friend Bruce Williams. During a private session at Bruce’s studio, his cat Ika decided to join us and jumped up onto the platform. She’s a fine modeling partner and a great little cat. But Jessie will always be my number one girl.

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Artists seem to have an affinity for cats. I wonder why? Andy Warhol owned 25 cats, and Ai Wei Wei has over thirty! Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Klimt, Georgia O’Keeffe – all cat people. Honestly, I love all animals equally and would love to have a dog. Ok .. two dogs, six cats, a giant aviary full of canaries, a 300 gallon aquarium full of tropical fish, a horse, a rabbit, a turtle, and a peacock. That’s all reallyūüėČ

Suzanne Valadon, Study of a Cat, 1918:

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Rock Model

I rarely have the opportunity to merge the topic of art modeling with a Music Monday post. Actually, I don’t think it’s ever happened. But a little art world item that came up last week fits the bill perfectly, and I couldn’t resist sharing it here. Rock icon and punk pioneer Iggy Pop posed nude for a life drawing class¬†at the New York Academy of Art.¬†Yes.. Iggy Pop. And the drawings produced during that session will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum¬†in the fall. I got such a kick out of the story, and my initial reaction was, “Yeah! You go Iggy!!” Then, I was completely won over when Iggy posted this perfectly succinct tweet to his Twitter account:

Going fully nude isn’t exactly a daring stretch for Iggy Pop since he hasn’t worn a shirt since … 1972? And we all know that flamboyant shirtless rock stars possess the requisite exhibitionist tendencies involved in nude art modeling. Iggy Pop is 68 years old now. After a lifetime in rock and roll, his body has endured much “wear and tear”, but that’s just fine for artists. Remember, models for art classes are life¬†models – individuals who bring their lives, through their physicality and presence, to others who seek to create, explore, and glorify their fellow human beings. Iggy Pop has experienced a lot over many decades. It took him 68 years to make it to “art model”. Better late than never. Welcome to the club, ¬†Iggy:-)

So you want some more Iggy? Ok, I’ll give you some more Iggy … that is James Osterberg from Muskegon, Michigan. Here he is in his younger and more flexible days, with The Stooges. This is “Hey, Peter”:

Lambent Beauty

Moonrise –¬†D.H. Lawrence

And who has seen the moon, who has not seen
Her rise from out the chamber of the deep,
Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber
Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw
Confession of delight upon the wave,
Littering the waves with her own superscription
Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us
Spread out and known at last, and we are sure
That beauty is a thing beyond the grave,
That perfect, bright experience never falls
To nothingness, and time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

Elliott Daingerfield, Moon Rising over Fog Clouds, watercolor. Collection of Metropolitan Museum:

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