Job Insecurity

For the past few weeks I’ve been posing for a life-size sculpture class at the New York Academy of Art. The instructor, Harvey Citron, who I’ve worked with before, tells great stories and shares interesting anecdotes about sculpture history. Last week, as the students carved away, he talked about Rodin and his model for his sculpture “Eve”. She was an Italian woman named Maria Abruzezzi, who was already pregnant, but not yet showing, when she agreed to pose for Rodin. Then, as the lengthy modeling assignment went on, Maria began to show, and Rodin obviously noticed the change; “Maria, dear, is there anything you want to tell me?” 😆

According to Harvey, Rodin was willing to continue sculpting from his model, pregnant belly and all, believing that a ‘pregnant Eve’ would carry powerful symbolic weight. But it became too difficult for Maria and she had to discontinue her posing. And who can blame her? Long term standing poses are grueling for models under normal circumstances. I can’t even imagine doing it in the third trimester of a pregnancy.

A few years ago at Spring Studio, Minerva Durham did a quick sketch of one of my short gesture poses. She showed it to me later and said it reminded her of Eve being expelled from paradise:

The story of Rodin and the pregnant model got me thinking about the practical realities of art modeling work, and really any livelihood that is ‘freelance’ in nature. We’re not true employees. We have to work to get paid. We have no sick days, no paid vacation days, no pensions. If a model gets the flu and has to cancel a job they lose the money they would have made that day. In my many years as an art model, I have worked with colds and pounding migraines, sprained ankles, a black eye, severe menstrual cramps, and oh so many days of depression episodes and emotional stress. It would be wonderful to take a “personal day” during those times. But that’s simply not how this kind of profession works. Now I won’t be getting pregnant anytime soon, but I totally understand why Rodin’s model didn’t disclose her pregnancy when he first hired her. It’s very possible she didn’t want to lose the job, and needed the job.

Because modeling is my sole source of income, I carry around a trembling seed of fear in the back of my mind that if something catastrophic were to happen to me, something that would put me out of commission for weeks and weeks, I’d be royally screwed. I could break my leg. I could get seriously sick and become bedridden. We artist’s models don’t have the convenient option of “working from home” like many people do. We have to commute there, physically be there, do the modeling, and get that time sheet signed. Don’t feel well? Too bad. Deal with it.

But the upside remains; that art modeling is awesome. So awesome that it motivates us models to carry on in spite of sore throats and allergies and cramps and aches. No sick days is the trade off for participating in such unique, liberating, and gratifying work. Here’s a photo of some works-in-progress of my standing pose in Harvey Citron’s class. It’s not an “Eve-like” pose, but a basic contrapposto:

In mid-January I received a jury duty summons in the mail. The date on which I was supposed to start calling was the Friday before my second Monday for this sculpture class. I was worried that if the recording told me to report for jury duty on the next Monday I’d have to let the Academy know, and then would most likely be replaced for Harvey’s class with another female model. That would mean seven consecutive Mondays of lost work and lost pay. For a single day job it wouldn’t have mattered much. But this class is a multi-week booking. The model is expected to be there for every session. So I postponed my jury duty, which we are allowed to do only once, until May. And again, this is an issue that affects us freelancers and independent contractors much differently than those with ‘regular jobs’, who are allowed jury duty absences when they’re called. I’m glad I was able to postpone, because I want to serve but also want to fulfill my modeling duties.

Sculptors work with lots of tools, but you know they’re really getting into it when they bring out the knives and hammers!

And finally, the photo you needed. My foot! Specifically, the foot of my weighted leg in the contrappposto after three 20 minute sets. I did not filter it black and white for a reason, as you can see. Can I please get some bath salts and a basin of warm water? 😆

Remains

Happy New Year Museworthy friends! I’m awfully late in offering that salutation, but at least it’s still January. “Happy New Years” in February are just going too far 😆

So I finally got to see the Armenia exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. The show closed on the 13th. It consisted of many beautifully illuminated manuscripts, gospel books, bas relief sculptures, architectural fragments, liturgical objects and vestments, and, my favorites, reliquaries. In medieval Christianity, reliquaries were containers that held holy relics of some sort, such as physical remains of the saints or objects associated with them. Adorned with precious stones and other decorative embellishments, reliquaries are unique works of art in and of themselves.

This reliquary cross with relics of St John the Baptist is from the Cilicia region of Armenia, 14th century. Gilded silver, filigree, precious and semi-precious stones, pearl and coral:

And this is a hand reliquary of Saint Abulmuse, from the Kharpert region. Some of my ancestors were from Kharpert. This gilded silver piece was luminous in person. Abulmuse was martyred and is recognized with a feast day in Armenian Orthodox tradition. This reliquary was on loan from the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum in Michigan. The Manoogians are cousins to my family through my grandfather’s side.

I hope that 2019 has started out better for all of you than it has for me. These past few weeks since my last blog post have been personally very trying. I won’t bore you with a laundry list of reasons, except that severe emotional pain from my family’s behavior, plus financial strains, plus dealing with a medical condition, have all piled on at the same time and I’ve felt like I’m drowning. I have an appointment tomorrow for a heart test to assess my aortic valve issue; my third one since the summer. It would have made an enormous difference during this tough time if only I had some relief from family aggravations. But no such luck. There’s never any ‘relief’ in this family. My mother used to be the greatest single support system one could ask for; a woman of bottomless compassion and understanding. Those were the good old days. But she has been hijacked by my brother and has chosen to aggressively prioritize his life, his concerns, his narratives and his needs over everyone else’s. It has cast a dark cloud over everything, and my recent anxiety hit levels I haven’t experienced in some time. However, I am immensely grateful for my dear friends, my sister-in-law Gayle, my niece Olivia, and my church family. Accept love and kindness from wherever it comes.

I’ll see you all soon …

Model Musings

Greetings from a recently baked and broiled New York City! The hellish heat wave has now passed, thank God. Still, summer is in full swing, and for nude art models working during this season it means no need for studio space heaters 😆

Speaking of art modeling, Museworthy reader and model Dave kindly sent me an article that I thought was well written and enjoyable. “The naked truth about nude art modeling” by Robin Eileen Bernstein. One of the models quoted in the article, Alan, is a good friend of mine. The piece has lots of good insights throughout. Folks interested in the subject as either artist or model might want to give it a read. Thanks for sharing, Dave!

And since we’re talking about posing nude, here is a work-in-progress of my torso from an ongoing summer gig, Sculpting the Figure at the New York Academy of Art. By Matt White:

Mornings at the Museum

Hellooo friends! In the midst of a jam-packed art modeling schedule of late I’ve still managed to see the Michelangelo exhibition at the Met … twice! Eight years in the making, works loaned from 50 museums and private collections around the world, and it shows. And they let you take photos! Why does that excite me so much? Because I’m now the owner of a brand new iPhone 7 which has a superb camera. I’m gonna have fun with this device, and it’s good for Museworthy too. Better pics!

This piece was a real treat, and it exemplifies why artists love to look at drawings even more than paintings – observing a master’s hand at work as he explores ideas and formulates his vision. These are Michelangelo’s studies for the arm of God in the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. Interesting how he tested two different gestures. And since Michelangelo wasn’t wasteful and reused paper, we can see the faded centaur sketch in the background:

I posted those arms to Instagram. Yes I’m on Instagram now! You know, with all the cool kids 😉 I’m at artmodelnyc if any of you would like to follow me there.

Here’s another drawing that my art model readers will appreciate. The paper is in poor condition but the pose is intense. A male model (all of Michelangelo’s models were men) doing a deep torso twist, turned head and pivoted shoulders. Not easy! The model was most likely one of Michelangelo’s stone cutters or studio assistants:

And a little more fun with my camera in black and white, the Athena Parthenos in the Met’s Great Hall. I posted a video about this sculpture’s installation last year. She’s a beauty:

Survival Instincts

I came home from work so tired the other night I had no energy to make anything to eat other than a piece of toast with olive spread that I ate standing at my kitchen counter. That would have to suffice as ‘dinner’. All I wanted to do was get into bed under the covers and find something to watch on TV, as long as it wasn’t cable news. So I stumbled onto “Baboon Queen” on the National Geographic Wild Channel, which had already started 15 minutes prior. The program followed the life of Tubu, a female baboon in Botswana. These shows which focus on the trials and travails of a single animal are really effective at making the viewer feel emotionally invested in that individual. Because by the end of this thing I was bawling my eyes out, my head on the pillow, dabbing my cheeks with tissues. It was an embarrassing display.

The last days of Tubu’s life were heartbreaking. Old, lanky, and slow, she became separated from her troop, grunting out distress calls to them from tree branches to no avail. Tubu was left behind. The last images of Tubu show her despondently stooping down into the reedy backwaters under the golden African sun, and disappearing. She had had enough. She was done.

In my sobbing state, I was reminded – with the help of the program’s narrator – that Tubu had lived an extraordinary life by baboon standards. She reached an amazing 25 years of age, had multiple children, became a grandmother and a great-grandmother. The queen of her baboon troop. Over the years she grieved the losses of vulnerable newborns who didn’t make it and the murdered deaths of other family members. She battled with leopards and other predators, got sprayed with the venom of a poisonous snake and was temporarily blinded. The life of Tubu was marked not just by hardships and survival-of-the-fittest clashes, but also by tight-knit community, familial bonds, and affection. It’s because her life was so incredible that her demise was particularly heart-rending. After all she had survived in the wilds of Botswana, to die lost and alone like that . . I couldn’t handle it 😥

From the Metropolitan Museum collection, baboon ointment jar, ca. 1800-1550 B.C., Northern Upper Egypt. This is so cute. Can I have this? 🙂

Wildlife shows are illuminating in many ways. Apart from their standard educational value they can often evoke deeper, more universal truths. Survival instincts are not exclusive to wild animals on the African plains. Females everywhere require vigilance, acumen, and determination to preserve their lives. Big cities like New York are metaphorically called ‘jungles’, and they are. Whether it’s in an urban jungle, a workplace jungle, or a literal jungle, females have to protect their bodily safety and the safety of their children. Predators and dangers are out there .. everywhere. Tubu the baboon knew it, and she fought tooth and nail for her survival. We do what we have to do.

One of my favorite videos on YouTube. Watch this mother elephant protect her baby while crossing the road. The adorable little one is naturally curious and trusting toward the tourists in a jeep with their clicking cameras. Mama knows better. Check out the death stare look in her eyes around :37. It’s like she’s saying, “Try me. Just try me.”

I want to wish Museworthy readers a very happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for all of you! Enjoy your extended weekend if you have one. I know I’ll be enjoying mine, maybe watching more nature shows 🙂

Predecessors

Mr. Buonarroti is coming to town! That’s a guy more familiarly known as Michelangelo. Renaissance dude, I think you’ve all heard of him 😉 Here in the Big Apple, the Met Museum is gearing up for what surely sounds like a spectacular exhibition. “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” will open on November 13th. Knowing my artist friends they will not only see it within the first week but will return for second and third viewings.

And now I’d like to share a vintage photo of an artist’s model being tortured, in the atelier of French sculptor Henri-Marius Petit, sometime during the 1930s. As you can see, she is holding the pose for the work ‘La Maternité’, without the breastfeeding baby of course. The leaning forward movement? That means eventual lower back pain. Her bent left leg and foot against the hard slab? That kills after an hour. This woman is in art modeling hell. And the men are all sitting around doing nothing while she does all the work! It must have been worth it though. The sculpture won the silver medal at the Salons des Artistes Français in 1934 and was purchased by the city of Metz, which renamed it ‘Monument to the French Mothers’.

This work – this arduous art modeling work – never changes, and I love it for that. The model in this photo is my ‘sister’. All the nude figures in art created from life are immortal images of my brethren. From Michelangelo’s men to Degas’ women, to all the men and women in academy studios and life classes throughout the world today and every day, we artist’s models keep carrying on …

The Dancing Satyr

Imagine being an Italian fisherman and sailing off in your boat like you do every morning, to catch netfuls of squid, shrimp, mussels, etc – all the ingredients for ‘frutti di mare’, the sumptuous seafood dish that Italians prepare so well. Then imagine discovering a 2000 year old, barnacle covered bronze sculpture tangled in your fishing net along with the day’s haul of crustaceans and seaweed. You’d surely sail back to shore excited about your archaeological find. I know I would! That’s exactly what happened to Francesco Adragna and his fishing crew 50 miles off the southwest coast of Sicily in 1998.

The same fishing crew had found the left leg of the sculpture months earlier. They wondered when, if ever, they would pull the torso of the relic from that same spot in the Mediterranean waters. They did. And it was named ‘Satiro Danzante’, or the ‘Dancing Satyr’. What a beauty this is:

The ancient artifact, believed to be of Greek origin from the 3rd or 4th century B.C., was painstakingly cleaned and restored and determined to be a copy in the style of Praxiteles, or maybe even an authentic Praxiteles. The condition of the face is exceptionally good, and the active gesture of the body is both vigorous and graceful.

The ‘Dancing Satyr’ is on display at a museum in the Sicilian town of Mazara del Vallo. For more about this marvelous discovery, check out this New York Times article.