Connecting the Dots

The month of July, now coming to an end, heaped a load of emotional turmoil upon me. I suppose, in a cruel joke sort of way, it’s fitting that it occurred in the month of my birthday. A week ago, I turned 48 years old, and though I would have much preferred to celebrate it downing margaritas and dancing til dawn, I spent most of it sloshing around in the morass. I wish it was possible to drown the monsters, to forcefully hold their heads underwater and bring an end, once for all, to the ogres of loneliness, regret, and self-doubt. But they are, I fear, undrownable.

As I glumly took a walk in the park on my birthday – that hot, sticky day, July 22nd, having been day one of the New York City heat wave – a turn of phrase that had impacted me once before poked its way again into my consciousness when I strolled past the softball fields: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward”. That is Steve Jobs, from his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. As someone who tends to beat herself up about past decisions and questionable choices, I am astonished at Jobs’ remarkable ability to spin all the events of his life, including the failures, the ugly battles, and humiliations, into mere spokes on the wheel of a larger, fulfilling destiny. I’m astonished because it is an art I have not mastered. Not even close. I mean, this is a man who declares that, in hindsight, dropping out of college was one of his best decisions … to a class of recent college graduates! Who else but Steve Jobs could get away with that? This was also a man who, in 2005 when he delivered this address, was much closer to death than he knew.

My art modeling work is done for the rest of the summer, except for a weekly portrait class on Long Island through August. But in the weeks leading up now, New York’s art community graciously sent me off into my hiatus with much needed expressions of appreciation for what I do. It was wonderful. After every July gig came an enthusiastic verbal validation of my modeling. Where did this come from? From the ladies at the 92nd St Y to the diverse group of sketchers at Battery Park and even to the high schoolers in the pre-college summer art program at FIT, I was treated to the most generous words; “You are so fun to draw!”, “Your poses are beautiful!”, “You’re the best model I’ve ever seen!”, “It’s been a pleasure working with you”. Now, I’m not entirely convinced that I’m deserving of such praise, especially given my dejected mood of late, but gosh am I ever grateful. And it offset the emotional turmoil I alluded to at the start of this post. I could not have needed those complimentary words more than I did this past month. Like a gallon of water for a thirsty soul.

I’ve blogged more than a few times about the profound value art modeling holds for me, most recently in this post from May. So I think I may have actualized at least one of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech themes; allowing your inner voice to lead you to your passion and “find what you love”. Passions are, truly, what propel us through our lives, push us through adversity, and imbue us with a sense of purpose. The purpose for most of us, unlike Steve Jobs, may not be grand or revolutionary or trailblazing, but it’s purpose all the same. Obviously we can’t all possess the creative vision and business acumen of Apple’s co-founder, but we can all answer inspiration’s call.

I still have to work on the “connecting the dots” bit however. When I reflect backwards, as Steve Jobs proclaimed, I can’t see it in the collected experiences of my own life. The dots just aren’t connecting. Yes I made ONE good decision ten years ago which introduced me to a passion that had been dwelling inside me. But all the rest? I can’t piece it together like a triumphant puzzle the way Jobs did, no matter how hard I try. Maybe, someday, it will all make sense to me. But not now.

Sketch of me .. still reaching, still actively standing, still stepping forward … by Giovanni Lipari:

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Welcome to Minerva’s Drawing Studio

Some of you may remember that I blogged many months ago about the imminent closing of Minerva Durham’s life drawing studio on Spring Street in the SoHo section of Manhattan. And longtime readers know well that Spring Studio has always been, hands down, my favorite place to model. I have since mentioned, in a post or two, that Minerva has found a new space in which to set up shop, and do what she does better than anybody: keep daily, open life drawing alive in New York City. A few readers have requested a formal introduction to the new space and I’m happy to oblige! First, a brief homage to the old Spring Studio with a photo of its distinctive red door, and the staircase descending into the basement studio we loved and depended on for so many years. Farewell 64 Spring Street. You are missed.

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And now ladies and gentleman, the sign and door of the new incarnation, renamed Minerva’s Drawing Studio! Broome Street, in the heart of Chinatown, just around the corner from the Grand St subway station. The excellent dumpling shop around the corner on Eldridge Street is enjoying a burst of new business customers from snacking artists!

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The Broome St studio space differs from the Spring Street space in two significant ways: it is above ground on street level, and it is blessed with natural light that bathes the room through tall windows overlooking a private courtyard. Upon entry, visitors are greeted by this marvelous large cityscape painted many years ago by Minerva Durham herself. Edward Hopper would be envious!

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Minerva has held onto the trusty half-circle arrangement with two “tiers” of seating for the artists to choose from. That’s me relaxing on the platform during the long break last Tuesday. Thank you Bruce for taking this photo!

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And I took this photo looking above from the platform; the model’s lighting, and I really like the ceiling tile design. Lovely detail.

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During the move between studios Minerva had to sell off or throw out a lot of her accumulated things, as the new studio is smaller and has less storage space. But this guy could never be left behind – an essential player in Minerva’s anatomy lessons:

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I was on the modeling schedule at the Spring Street studio into its last days, and I was on the schedule at the new studio in its first days … a transition that has defined for me – professionally and personally – the supreme sense of loyalty, purpose, and belonging that I’ve always felt from Minerva’s mission, her circle, and her stewardship. As an artist’s model, it is an honor to be aligned with this journey, and this courageous, inspiring woman I admire.

At the opening reception for the new studio back in January, Minerva spoke to the crowd and welcomed everyone to the new space. In the true spirit of this community, a man took the opportunity to sketch Minerva as she spoke:

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A pencil and pastel sketch of me by Chuck Connelly, from last week:

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And from the same session, a quick sketch by Jerilyn Jurinek. I was in a reclined-pose kind of mood that day🙂

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Naked Deliverance

When stresses and anxieties threaten to overwhelm my mental state, art modeling bails me out. Art modeling always bails me out. I don’t think I’ve ever realized it so acutely until these past few months, as the tragic deterioration of once close and loving relationships within my immediate family have come to a head. It’s all taken quite an emotional toll on me, and I’ve avoided venting about it here on the blog. My readers don’t come here for that, nor should they be subjected to such things.

What I can do, instead, is give props to this livelihood of mine, this arduous work that has always been there for me, and I for it. My dance partner for 10+ years, art modeling provides me with a sense of humble purpose – however small and obscure it may be to the loud, busy, urgent, much larger and more complicated world out there beyond the closed door art studios of New York City. It doesn’t fill my bank account. It doesn’t do my body any favors. It doesn’t always operate fairly. But art modeling is still my faithful rescuer. It rescued me eleven years ago from a personal crossroads, and it continues to do so. It is work in which an oft-depressed 47 year old woman can take her clothes off … and be valued. How many occupations can make that claim? With gratitude, I press on …

This is yours truly, captured in watercolor, by my friend the inimitable Jordan Mejias.

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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 it😉

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!!!! 😡

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🙂

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 really😉

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”: