Summer and Downtown Drawing

Helloooo friends! Looks like I’ve done it again by letting the blog lapse for too long. Well at least I left you with beautiful dragonflies :-) Since that post I’ve turned one year older. My birthday was on July 22nd and it came and went without much fanfare, which is fine. My sweet cat Jessie is suffering with asthma, poor thing. So I’ve been tending to her and giving her bronchodilators. This stiflingly hot and humid weather isn’t helping matters. Art modeling was slow in July but the jobs I did have were quite enjoyable; summer art programs for young people, a few private group sessions, and good old Spring Studio which never goes on hiatus. Now I enter the perennial art modeling dead zone that is August. As of now I believe I have a grand total of six gigs booked for the entire month, most of which are at .. Spring Studio. It’s long been my favorite venue in which to pose. Love that place.

So here’s a quickie of me created at the inimitable, one-of-a-kind underground life drawing space that is Spring Studio in the SoHo section of Manhattan. A sketch in pencil and wash by my friend Jordan Mejias. I liked this a lot when I saw it in his art pad, and Jordan was his usual “Eh, it’s okay” self. That’s Jordan. That’s many artists in fact. But over the years I’ve learned that we models often appreciate qualities in drawings that artists sometimes miss. Not always, just sometimes. Remember, WE were holding the pose. We felt it, we breathed into it, we became it in muscle and flesh and bone. So when we glance upon its capture that looks like it felt, we get it. So artists, if the model is taken with your drawing, consider it a compliment, truly. Here, Jordan got down the essential basics in five minutes. Lines and shapes, then a splash of color. Abstract, simple, and totally me … bending forward while sitting cross-legged. This is art modeling. It’s what we do :-)

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Odonata

The Dragon-fly by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.

Although this season is inflicting a whopping dose of allergies on us sufferers – not to mention plenty of humidity – summer does its best to compensate for its discomforts with small enchantments. Works for me! Among them are the presence of dragonflies, which have long been my favorite insects, both as living creatures and attractive motifs on decorative objects. On the latter, Louis Comfort Tiffany certainly agreed.

Found on Tumblr, plate taken from ‘The Biology of Dragonflies’ by R. J. Tillyard. Published by Cambridge University Press (1917):

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My earliest recollection of seeing a dragonfly was as a young child, on the summer days spent at the farm of my great-great aunt. She had a sprawling, rustic property on the north fork of Long Island, and when my parents drove my brother and I out there for visits in July and August, it provided us born-and-bred city kids with bit of country-living experience. Now I can’t say that I’m a person who is totally comfortable with insects in general. Stingers scare me, and any creepy crawlers of the centipede variety are sworn enemies. I can’t with those things. But the dragonfly is cool, man; the flash of iridescent green or blue color, the huge eyes, the long stick-like abdomen, and those two sets of serious wings. A prehistoric species that has inhabited planet earth since forever, the dragonfly gobbles up mosquitoes and darts, zips, and flits through the sticky summer air … like a boss :-)

I follow the wonderful Maureen Gibbon on Twitter. She is the author of “Paris Red”a novel about Édouard Manet’s muse Victorine Meurent. Maureen recently posted a tweet of a dragonfly that she was able to photograph perfectly. I loved it:

Dragonflies are most commonly seen near water and wetlands and the surrounding areas. In fact, their larval stage is spent entirely underwater. It is believed that the presence of dragonflies is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Sometimes referred to as ‘darning needles” (and easily confused with the similar “damselfly”) dragonflies have carried mythical symbolism throughout civilizations. They’re associated with change, adaptability, and transformation. During their brief life span, they make their presence known with robust behavior of evolutionary dynamism: they hunt their prey while in flight, they migrate, they mate, they use their powerful vision to see at all possible angles except directly behind them, and with their agile flight can fly straight up, straight down, zig-zag, hover in mid-air like a helicopter, or go full blast at up to 38 mph. And they’ve been doing all this for 300 million years. Bow down to odonata anisoptera my friends.

Lotus and Dragonfly by Qi Baishi, 1953:

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Since keeping a dragonfly as a pet in a cage would be a completely weird and stupid thing to do, I’ve instead collected dragonfly-adorned items over the years to decorate my home. This pretty light-reflecting dragonfly sits among my potted plants in the bay window of my house:

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You can’t see the top, but this ceramic dragonfly piece is actually a bud vase. It’s a family heirloom that might have been accidentally lost if I didn’t rescue it to safety :-)

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A very special plaque. My Mom purchased it and then hand painted it for me. It’s been hanging on my bedroom closet door for 14 years:

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The Karaoke Guy

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but I’ve been listening to an inordinate amount of 80s music … and loving it all over again. The 1980s was my coming-of-age decade, the era of nostalgia for those of my generation. Malign the 80s all you want for exalting money and materialism as noble pursuits – a la Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” – but the period nevertheless produced boatloads of notable pop culture phenomena and plenty of kick-ass songs. Maybe I’m swimming in nostalgia these days because my birthday is rapidly approaching and my subconscious is mercifully steering me away from the reality of turning 47. Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself enthusiastically singing along when Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love” comes on the radio as I’m driving on the Long Island Expressway.

Songs of our youth inevitably carry memories. And a memory came rushing through me recently, prompted by – of course – an 80s song on the radio. That oldies station is getting quite a workout on my car radio these days! The memory is not a major one in my life. It has no significant meaning or any kind. In fact, it’s meaningless. But it is vivid. And fun. And offers a tiny, fleeting glimpse of my youthful years when I was boy-crazy, flirty, and spent a lot of time in the drinking establishments of my native Queens. A little side note, Queens is the hardest boozing borough of the city of New York. This is a 100% true statement and it’s not open to debate ;-)

So here’s the scene. It was 1989. I was 21 years old. Me and my then-boyfriend (who many years later became my husband, and then my ex-husband) were out with a gaggle of friends at a bar in Kew Gardens, Queens for karaoke night. I was probably wearing some skimpy tank top and had my hair pouffed out as big as I could get it. My stomach was filling up with pints of Guinness, and my boyfriend’s loudmouth buddy was ordering shots of Jägermeister for the group that no one ever requested but were forced to drink at gunpoint, figuratively speaking. This was not some fancy-schmancy Manhattan martini place full of suits, mind you. This was an old-school, working class joint that had been there forever – a joint that had played host to generations of electricians, mechanics, and off-duty firemen, boys who worked in their fathers’ heating and air conditioning businesses and construction companies. That kind of joint. A place where they laugh at you if you ask for a glass of chardonnay.

The Bartender, by Toulouse-Lautrec:

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So the next karaoke singer stepped up to the microphone. He was super cute, maybe 24 or 25. He had brown hair and green eyes (my favorite combination) and wore jeans and one of those long-sleeved thermal shirts, dark blue. Before the music recording began, he pushed up his sleeves to reveal a tattooed arm. He was muscular, but not a meathead. And he had an unlit cigarette wedged behind his ear. It’s amazing the minuscule details one can remember. And I remember that cigarette.

And then it began. Cute green-eyed Queens guy launched into his rendition of Billy Idol’s 1982 hit “White Wedding” . . . and HE. WAS. AWESOME. Friends, you must understand, this guy rocked the house. From the moment the lyrics “Hey little sister what have you done?” flowed through his voice, every girl in the place, myself included, just stood there with our mouths open. Whoa. This guy.  After an hour of awful karaoke singers, most of whom were drunk and kept messing up the lyrics, this guy got up there and was killin’ it. He was exciting. He was a potential American Idol finalist in an age before American Idol even existed. And it kept getting better. When he got to the part of “Start agaaaiiiiinn!!”, cute guy nailed it, his voice on pitch and deep and smooth with just the right amount of rough rock and roll edges. He sang that song, dare I say, better than Billy Idol.

When the song was over, cute guy received a thunderous round of cheers and applause from the inebriated bar crowd. He flashed a smile and returned oh-so-casually to his group of friends. He snatched that cigarette from his ear and lit up. Mission accomplished.

Interior of a Tavern, by Peder Severin Kroyer:

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In case any of you are wondering if I sang karaoke that night, the answer is yes. Another girl and I got up there together, because we were too chicken to go solo, and performed Blondie’s “Call Me”. It was an abomination. Cute guy was watching .. and no, he never called me. Only in my dreams ;-)

A Music Monday inspired by a Guinness-fueled karaoke night in Queens from 26 years ago. Why not? Music acts as a marker of memories, both profound and prosaic. Actually, the music memories that aren’t sappy and sentimental or wrapped up in mawkish emotion are rich and intense in their own way. I wonder what happened to Mr. White Wedding? Here’s Billy Idol … trying to sound as good as the guy from Kew Gardens :lol:

Flight to Freedom

For this 4th of July holiday weekend, my love of animals and love of my country come together in a blog post. If the bald eagle – symbol of America and its freedoms – can be rehabilitated from injury and trauma, then surely America herself can do the same. Let’s hope so. Let’s hope that we too can soar again. Have a wonderful Independence Day weekend, everyone. See you soon. Blessings .. :-)

Veronica of Venice

Throughout junior high and high school, I was quite the vocabulary geek. When I wasn’t cutting chemistry class and doodling “I <3 Paul” in my spiral notebook, I was compiling word lists on my own time for my own personal study. I used to scribble stars next to the ones I had trouble remembering. But once in a while I’d gloss over a word I encountered and just presumed to know what it meant by its written context; something like “18th century courtesans enjoyed lives of social freedom and financial stability”. So a courtesan is just a high class society woman, right? Not exactly.

When I eventually looked up the word “courtesan” I was a little taken aback by its straightforward definition: “a woman who has sex with rich or important men in exchange for money”. So in other words, a prostitute. Wait, what? I was confused. Courtesans were written about in a way that conveyed glamour and high repute. Keep in mind that I grew up in New York City – pre-Guiliani New York City that is – and my understanding of prostitutes was the short-skirted women with bad skin who loitered on street corners on the west side, soliciting men with “you lookin’ for a date?” and leaning into open car windows.

Naturally, I came to learn that some words are history-specific, and that New York City circa 1982 was a world apart from Venice circa 1570. (Or was it? Hmm…) No one uses the word “courtesan” in ordinary conversation anymore, but it came back to me recently when I started to research this extraordinary portrait by either Jacopo Tintoretto or one of his protégés:

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The woman in this painting, with red hair and peek-a-boo nipple, is Veronica Franco, one of the most celebrated and respected courtesans in Venice during the 16th century, a time when that city was a thriving, cosmopolitan commercial and cultural center. Franco was a member of the cortigiane oneste class of courtesans: educated, sophisticated women who provided companionship, sexual or otherwise, to wealthy men who served as benefactors. These courtesans hobnobbed with the elite and often had careers of their own in fields like the arts, even business. Interestingly, they enjoyed social and professional freedoms that were not as easily available to traditional wives.

Veronica Franco was born 1546 into a family of native Venetians – a class of people who were referred to as cittadini originari or “original citizens”. This stratum of society was bestowed with certain rights and privileges and only ranked below the nobility in terms of social standing. Franco’s mother was a courtesan herself and provided all her children, Veronica and her three brothers, with private tutors and a well-rounded education. After a failed marriage to a physician at an early age, Veronica Franco embarked on her career as a courtesan and, more impressively, a published poet and literary editor.

From the collection of Museo del Prado  this is another portrait believed to be of Veronica Franco, this time by Jacopo Tintoretto’s son, Domenico. It’s appropriately titled Lady Baring her Breast. Veronica liked showing those off it seems. And the pearl necklace is a nice touch :-)

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Franco collaborated with her male counterparts to compile poetry anthologies. She forged an especially close relationship with Domenico Venier, poet and head of a prominent literary academy in Venice. “Terze Rime”, Veronica Franco’s volume of poetry, was published in 1575. Her voice is frank, insightful, passionate, often defiant. In this excerpt of her verse, Franco challenges the misbehaving men of her day with the spirit of a feisty early feminist:

Look with the eyes of your good sense
and see for yourself how unworthy of you
it is to insult and injure women.
Unfortunate sex, always led about
by cruel fortune, because you are always
subjected and without freedom!
But this has certainly been no fault of ours,
because, if we are not as strong as men,
like men we have a mind and intellect.
And virtue does not lie in bodily strength
but in the vigor of the soul and mind,
through which all things come to be known;
and I am certain that in this respect
women lack nothing, but, rather, have given
more than one sign of being greater than men.
But if you think us inferior to you,
perhaps it’s because in modesty and wisdom
we are more adept and better than you.
And do you want to know what the truth is?
That the wisest person should be the most patient
squares with reason and with what is right;
insolence is the mark of the madman,
but the stone that the wise man draws from the well
was thrown in by a foolish, imprudent man…….

Not long after the the publication of Franco’s poetry, Venice was hit with a devastating outbreak of the plague. A port city with a mercantile economy, Venice was particularly vulnerable due to infected rats and other disease-carrying vermin entering the city via trade ships. Veronica Franco, like thousands of others, fled Venice to escape the Black Death. The city was ravaged, and its strict caste system now meant nothing as rich and poor alike, nobleman and laborer, succumbed equally under the outbreak. Epidemic disease doesn’t care who you are or who your parents were.

The Grand Canal, Venice, by Franz Richard Unterberger:

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When Franco returned to Venice, her home and possessions had been looted, and her life entered a second chapter marked by poverty and other difficulties. In 1580 she was brought up on bogus charges of witchcraft. An inquisition was held and she was exonerated. But the damage done to her reputation was irreparable. Then in 1582, her dear and loyal friend Domenico Venier died which left Veronica with no significant ally in Venetian social circles.

Franco was a prolific letter-writer, and her surviving correspondence provides compelling insight into her values and attitudes. In one letter, she strongly discourages an advice-seeking mother from allowing her daughter to become a courtesan. Using blunt language, Franco warns the woman that the life of a courtesan is not glamorous but tainted with degradation and stigma, and that she, as the girl’s mother, should be more protective of her daughter’s welfare and well-being. Franco urged her not to “slaughter in one stroke [her] soul and [her] reputation, along with [her] daughter’s”. So the life of a “courtesan” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And my vocabulary confusion over that word wasn’t so crazy after all.

In her last years, Veronica Franco tried to establish a shelter for the destitute women of Venice and former prostitutes. At the time of her death in 1591 at the age of 45 (younger than I am now) she was not intestate. Franco had left a detailed will that demonstrates thoughtful instructions for the distribution of her limited assets and custodial care for her children. Though she ended up falling into obscurity, Veronica Franco’s fascinating life is worthy of a revival for anyone interested in topics of Venetian history, poetry, or women’s rights. The 1998 film “Dangerous Beauty” was based on Veronica Franco from Margaret Rosenthal’s biography The Honest Courtesan

Tidings

Warm thanks to Museworthy readers who expressed concern about my ear troubles and shared their own conditions and treatment tips. You’ll be happy to know that I’m feeling a great deal better and am almost at 100%! But the doctor said that I won’t be completely in the clear until allergy season has passed. So I’ll just have to handle it day by day and try not to get hooked on saline nasal spray. Seriously, have you tried this stuff? It’s so good. All-natural and very refreshing.

I’m also still very much an art model, in case I gave the false impression I’m considering giving it up. I’m not! However, it is taking its toll and I’m not getting any younger. At Spring Studio the other day when I was straightening up after doing a ten minute pose with a deep backbend, I let out an audible “Ah ah ah ah .. ow.” A guy who had been drawing close to the platform heard me and grinned. “Tough one?” he said. I laughed and said, “Maybe I’m getting too old for this!”. A yoga class this weekend might be in order. Once upon a time I used to be good at these. I’ll get it back, hopefully!

Speaking of modeling, I had a thought about the next Museworthy Art Show while I was doing a long pose at the 92nd Street Y yesterday. In a sitting twist on a low stool the idea came to me. Let me know what you think. It’s Portraits and Pets! Share your opinions/questions in the comments!

Some charcoal sketches of me by Joan Stevens created Monday night at the National Art League in Queens. Thanks Joan :-)

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The Blogger is Here

Dear friends, I am so terribly sorry for my missing-in-action behavior with the blog lately. I don’t know what ‘s wrong with me these days :( I guess a confluence of worries, anxieties, writer’s block, laziness, missing someone, still keeping my fingers crossed about an opportunity I hope works out, and now an ear ailment that’s affecting my hearing. I had to model yesterday with this constant loud whooshing and whirring in my ear and it was not exactly pleasant. When my timer went off I couldn’t even hear it! Okay that’s enough. :orders self to stop complaining:

I’m doing my best to snap out of this funk. Well, actually I’m not doing my best but I’ll get on it! After I sit for a portrait pose tonight I have a few days off and I’ll try to get my shit together. Plus I have Jessie the cat to cheer me up, and she does a fine job of that, my little roly-poly angel :-)

Girl with Dove, 1914, Henri Lebasque:

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