Portrait commissions may have allowed John Singer Sargent to make a name for himself, but we know that he eventually grew tired of that work despite being in great demand as a portraitist for upper crust aristocrats. If you do a Google Image Search of John Singer Sargent you’re bombarded with painting after painting of affluent men and women posing stiffly in their elegant clothes, gazing straight at the viewer, their airs of superiority wafting off the canvases.

Recently I came across a Sargent portrait that stood out from the others and I suspected that it wasn’t a commissioned work. After a few minutes of research I discovered that it was, in fact, not a commission. Sargent created it purely from the inspiration he felt from the subject, not because he was contracted to do so. She was Mabel Batten, born Mabel Veronica Hatch in Great Britain in 1856. Like most of Sargent’s circle, Mabel was a member of the high society class but she was also an accomplished mezzo-soprano, composer, trained musician and patroness of the arts. Sargent painted this portrait depicting her in the euphoric throes of singing, with eyes closed, mouth open, and those trademark Sargent painterly brushstrokes on the dress. Mabel is in a full blown musical trance here:

And no that’s not some sloppy cropping on my part. Sargent deliberately cut off the arms in an ingenious composition choice which creates greater intimacy and intensity. Also, I like the gesture of her left hand on her hip. Nice touch.

This Music Monday post continues with more female songstress exultation. The word ‘cantrix’, by the way, means a female singer, as my Latin language obsession pokes through from time to time. I posted back in December about my niece Olivia’s original music and I’m thrilled to report that she continues to kick ass 🙂 Her latest single is Sapphire and I would be honored if my readers had a listen to this outstanding song. Really, it’s outstanding! This girl is on a roll. Ms Mabel would love this, and you will too. Here’s Olivia Paris:

Women in Red

On the night of a severe windstorm here in the NYC area last week, as trees were ripped out of the ground at the roots and toppled over, power lines downed, and garbage cans and their contents were blown all over the streets, I bundled up and braced myself to head outside in the typhoon-like conditions. It was a wild night. I placed in the trunk of my car a shopping bag full of clothing to bring to the women’s shelter at Church on the Hill in Flushing, Queens where I was scheduled to serve for the evening. Among my clothing haul was a lovely red open style cardigan sweater that I found on sale at Macy’s the day before. At a 35% markdown it was a terrific bargain. It was so pretty and stylish that I was tempted to keep it for myself!

The bus from the Olivieri Center – a drop-in facility for the homeless on Manhattan’s west side – arrived at the church around 7:00, and we were ready to greet the eight women who would be spending the night. I placed the red sweater and my other items where all the clothing donations were laid out, making sure everything was neatly folded and well displayed. As I assisted with serving coffee, chicken and salad, I kept one eye on the clothing browsing to see if anyone would choose the red sweater. Sure enough, I saw one of the younger women unfold the sweater and hold it up against herself to assess the size. I dropped what I was doing and scooted right over to her. “That color is great on you!” I said, and it was. She smiled and replied, “This is nice. This is really, really nice.” The red sweater was claimed! And I was filled with joy. The woman then asked me to help her choose some other things, and we spent a good amount of time putting together outfits, sharing conversation and laughs.

The next morning I had a modeling job at the National Art League. I’ve posed for this particular class before and am aware that they often opt for a portrait sitting rather than a figure pose. So to provide a dash of color in case I needed it, I grabbed one of my scarves (and as a scarf person I have many!) before I headed out the door. I chose my red one. Was it a conscious choice to honor the young homeless woman who rode back to Manhattan that morning with the nifty red cardigan? Yeah, I think so. Here’s to the women in red 🙂

And as predicted, I did sit for portrait that morning and I did wear the red scarf as a color accent. Artist Paul David Elsen created this splendid alla prima painting of my pose:

Year of the Dog

With the arrival of the Lunar New Year on February 16th, we’ve entered the Year of the Dog in the Chinese Zodiac, which corresponds with the lunar calendar. My birth year, 1968, was the Year of the Monkey. Monkeys are great, but dogs are, well, the most beloved animal on earth, and they deserve that status. The great screen legend Elizabeth Taylor famously said that some of her best leading men in Hollywood had been “horses and dogs.”

I would probably compose a better Year of the Dog blog post if I wasn’t still harboring disappointment that Slick the border collie didn’t win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club show last week. Did anyone else watch that broadcast? Slick was robbed!! Biggie the pug was also robbed. They gave the top honors to the bichon frise, who was really cute, but I just have a preference for dogs who do productive things, like herding, hunting, guarding, protecting, working their tails off on fishing boats and farms and mountains. If you haven’t seen border collies in action you should. Impressive to the max. Intelligent, resolute, amazing dogs. One of my favorite breeds.

Siberian Dogs in the Snow by Franz Marc:

Though I love all animals, these days I am technically a cat person. Museworthy readers are required to know of my girl Jessie. You can read about her on my post Crazy Cat Lady. There will be a pop quiz afterwards 😉

This video is hilarious. A compilation of cats stealing dog beds. As wonderful as dogs are in so many ways, they are no match for the territorial dominance of cats. Happy Year of the Dog! 😆

Modeling Days

Hellooooo darling Museworthy friends! I’m here! Where have I been? Oh just on the modeling platforms of the NYC metro area. My last blog post was two weeks ago but it feels longer to me. I suppose that’s what a busy work schedule will do. So to atone for my terrible absence, I come bearing artwork! This is just a sampling of some of the modeling I’ve been doing lately. Here we have works in an assortment of media created in various venues and locales, from artists of marvelously diverse visions, expressions, and styles. Hope you enjoy 🙂

I was honored to pose for a life drawing session hosted by the outstanding figurative artist Patricia Watwood in her Brooklyn studio. It was an extra special treat to see old friends and familiar faces in attendance. I did this standing pose for four 20 minute sets. Robin Kappy did a fantastic job here:

Janet Cook is adept at all media. Pastels, oils, prints, you name it. Recently she’s been doing these really lovely drawings using micron pens. This is her drawing of me in the same pose:

I was delighted to see Tobias Hall at Patty’s session. I became acquainted with Toby at the New York Academy of Art, and I know him to be thoroughly dedicated to his art and a person of kindness and grace. Here is his exquisite rendering of my standing pose and my earlier seated pose on the left side of the page:

Now let’s travel northward to midtown Manhattan, where I posed for the Sketch Club on 43rd Street, a modeling gig I’ve been doing for many years. My dear friend Jean Marcellino created this excellent pastel pencil work of my reclining pose, in which I kept my leg and arm hanging off the edge of the platform. Trying something different!

And we travel even more north up to the 92nd St Y on Lexington Avenue where we had a joyful four Saturdays in Dan Gheno’s class. Again, more old friends and familiar faces. I did a clothed pose with my favorite turquoise scarf as a colorful accessory. Dan Gheno loves that scarf too! James Langford did this large watercolor piece of my seated pose and it came out great:

So that’s what I’ve been doing these past few weeks, my friends. Immersed in the work I love, reconnecting with people I admire and adore, and affirming my belief that being an artist’s model is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world. The hard work is worth it … always 🙂

Facial Nonrecognition

Remember the days before apps? How did we amuse ourselves? How did we occupy our free time? How? How, dammit! 😆 The apps keep on coming. Perhaps we should amend Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorism about the only certainties in life to be “death, taxes, and apps”.

Recently, a new feature on the Google Arts and Culture phone app has gone viral. I noticed it when I saw some friends posting about it on social media. It’s a selfie app that uses facial recognition to match your picture with your doppelgänger from a work of art. In some postings I saw, people added incredulous comments to their results like, “Huh?” and “Seriously?” with a string of laughing emojis. Let’s just say that some of the matches seemed a bit off.

So naturally I couldn’t resist trying the damn thing myself. There’s really nothing to it. You just take a terrible selfie with the app and swipe to see the results. Here’s what I got, my dear readers. Decide for yourselves:

Well …. I don’t know what to say. I like the portraits on their own, but as ‘matches’? Maybe the Zabaleta came up because of the eyes and eyebrows? But Paolini’s ‘Fortune Teller’? Not seeing it at all. I had anticipated a cubist Picasso with giant eyes and distorted features. Then again, my selfie looks like shit so I suppose should just be happy with anything halfway decent. Sorry Pablo. Maybe next time 😉

But this selfie app experiment did get me thinking about ‘likenesses’. I’ve been around the topic a great deal in my 13 years of art modeling. Capturing a likeness of model is a challenging task to be sure. I have observed that some artists who make painstaking, methodical efforts to capture a likeness often miss the mark somehow, while some loose, freely executed works manage to catch it. I tend to believe that the overall ‘look’ of a person matters more than particular details; their ‘mien’, if you will. And abstraction can absolutely achieve it when done well. I’ve recognized myself instantly in some artists’ works not because they were perfectly representational, but because they communicated my presence and my look, just like every model has their own look, their own movement, their own gestural presence, their own attitudinal bearing. The Google Arts and Culture selfie app and its algorithmic calculations would recognize none of those things, because those things are perceived solely through life. We’re called ‘life models’ for a reason.

As for selfies, I blogged about them back in 2015 and we had a lot of fun delving into the topic. If anyone would like to revisit that post, it’s here –> Know Thyselfie

Road Trip With Walt

“Song of the Open Road” – Walt Whitman

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

Edward Hopper, Road in Maine, 1914:

The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not—if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?

O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.

Paul-Camille Guigou, Road by the Mediterranean, 1866:

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently,but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

Andrei Ryabushkin, Road, 1887:

Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman – Poetry Foundation

New Year Notes

:typing blog post wearing four layers, gloves, ski mask, long johns, while guzzling piping hot coffee directly out of the pot:

Hello gang, and Happy New Year! And also brrrrrr! So 2018 is starting with a deep freeze across the country, with headlines that read “Cold Night Shelters to Open in Central Florida”. Excuse me, what? There’s snow falling in Tallahassee and some ominous thing called a ‘bomb cyclone’ poised to hit us here on the east coast. Sounds delightful o_O

If only single digit temperatures actually inspired the cool, stylish elegance of this lithograph, ‘Winter’, by Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha. Nice robe!

I hope you all had a joyous New Year’s Eve celebration, however you chose to spend it. I used to go out on New Year’s Eve but not anymore. I prefer to stay home and have unwittingly established what has now become my own New Year’s Eve ‘tradition’; listening to WQXR’s Classical Countdown. I enjoy it so much! The final number one spot belongs, always, to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which really is the ideal piece of music to bring you to the stroke of midnight. Exultant, profound, triumphant, brimming with passion. Pure genius. It is orchestral fireworks, if you will.

When the Ninth Symphony concludes at midnight, Beethoven continues when WQXR plays his arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Beethoven was a genius but a genius who, like everyone else, still had to make a living. He supplemented his income composing popular music for his day and doing arrangements of Scottish, English, and Welsh folk songs on commission. The recording WQXR played on New Year’s Eve was Beethoven’s arrangement performed by The New York Vocal Arts Ensemble. And it’s lovely. Beautiful voices with Beethoven’s musical artistry. For those who are interested, this is the album -> Beethoven: Folk Song Arrangements


Happy New Year everyone! Keep warm, stay safe, and I’ll see you back here very soon 🙂