Golden Jubilee

I present this blog post feeling equal parts of dread and gratitude. And since I can’t ignore it even if I tried I’ll just mention that this Sunday, July 22, is a significant day for me. It will mark my 50th orbit around the sun .. and boy am I exhausted! 😆 Yeah it’s my birthday and it’s the big 5-0. Half a century folks. Yay!! I made it!! Of course, even us super cool Gen Xers had to get old eventually. Remember us? The forgotten ‘middle child’ wedged between the Baby Boomers and the Millenials, both of whom outnumber us by huge margins. I’ve been obsessively listening to 80s music lately and it’s no mystery why. So many memories.

In lieu of tedious profound thoughts and deep life reflections inspired by my ‘milestone’ birthday, I’m just going to wish you all a wonderful weekend and continued summer fun of vacations, travels, recreation, explorations, and whatever else you’re all enjoying. Meet me right back here in a few days. Grace and peace, dear friends. I’ll see you on the other side of fifty …

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, On the Road to the Temple of Ceres:

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 🙂

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:

Cantrix

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! 😆