The Day Aretha Died

With only an hour of relaxation time before I had to go work, I placed my beach blanket on the grass of my local park and sprawled out. Breathe in the fresh air, sip some cold water, and hopefully read one more chapter in my book; that was the plan for my precious 60 minutes of pre-modeling leisure time. Within minutes, the sound of that voice – Aretha Franklin’s voice – began soaring through the park, pumped through a sound system. Some of the greatest songs ever being sung by one of the greatest singers ever – first ‘Chain of Fools’, then ‘Baby I Love You’, then ‘Dr Feelgood’, then ‘Think’. Where was it coming from? Several yards away from me, where the Hip to Hip Theater Company was starting to set up for their production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in the park that night. The news of Aretha Franklin’s death had broken just that morning, and the actors and the crew decided to pay homage to Aretha as they unloaded their equipment, lighting, wardrobe, and stage sets. I took this picture:

That voice, oh that voice, permeated our Queens park and it sounded absolutely phenomenal. Out in the open air. On a beautiful afternoon. And it wasn’t long before some of the company members started dancing around and bopping to the music, as theater people will do 🙂

I’ve been a huge fan of Aretha Franklin since as long as I can remember. I was a twelve year old girl holding a hairbrush as a microphone and singing along with “Natural Woman” in front of the mirror in my bedroom. Those were the years before Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and Adele, and all the female vocalists who followed in Aretha’s footsteps.

This is the Queen of Soul covering the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” in Amsterdam, 1968, the year I was born. You can skip ahead to around 2:40 when Aretha is announced and makes her way to the stage, and then proceeds to bring the house down while getting pelted with flowers. She’s exciting, joyful, full of lady swagger. Sit your ass down Mick Jagger. SIT. DOWN. This is Music Monday with Ms Franklin. RIP.

Lifeline

This has been the busiest summer of art modeling that I’ve had to date. It’s almost as if God or the spirits or the cosmic energies of counterbalance are aware of how much I desperately need this gratifying work to keep me from stumbling into the abyss of personal torments. I’m sorry if that sounds hyperbolic, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense to me. From sculpture at the New York Academy of Art to joyous sessions at Minerva’s drawing studio, summer pre-college portfolio classes at FIT and Molloy College and ‘Figure al Fresco’ at Battery Park, I’ve been an artist’s model this summer far more than I’ve been a sunbather – and that’s saying a lot because I love sunbathing!

Amidst all this summer work the highlight, without a doubt, has been private modeling sessions with Steven Assael, the living master of representational art. Besides the great pleasure of getting to know him as a person, it’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch him work. The steadiness of his hand, the precision of his fingertips rubbing as he blends and shades, and the focus of his gaze, are in themselves a display of ‘art’ in a way. Creation in action, unfolding before your eyes. While posing for the drawing below I felt almost in a trance!

And these are some sketches of my short poses by Steve, in different tools and paper, from my very first session in his studio. Love these 🙂

And a quick note for my New Yorker readers; the exhibition “Armenia!” is opening at Metropolitan Museum next month on September 22nd. It sounds amazing. This Armenian girl is looking forward to it!

A Whale of a Time

When it’s a hot, gross, sweltering August day in New York City one can find relief in an air conditioned movie theater. An even better option, in my opinion, is to get out of dodge completely and find yourself on a boat 15 miles out from Montauk harbor, where it’s a few degrees cooler, a lot breezier, and the whales are surfacing and putting on a show. Finally, after years of wanting to do so, I went whale watching, and it was everything I imagined it would be; a friendly group of fellow watchers, a great ship crew of hard working young people, and a brilliant expert marine biologist narrating our excursion. Throw in clear blue skies, passing pleasure boaters and fishermen, and the marvelous undulations of the rolling Atlantic waters, and you have a perfect summer experience.

Five finback whales and two minke whales graced us with their presence. Of the five finbacks, two were a mother and her calf. Love! The babies are born in the winter so the calf was approximately six months old. When momma surfaced and then took her deep terminal dive to search for food, the little one soon followed her lead. It was beautiful to see. Whales can stay underwater for around 7-10 minutes before coming back up for air. Amazing creatures.

Cresli (Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island), which organizes the summer whale watches, posted the day’s report on its website:

I am an animal lover through and through. But I have always held a special place for marine wildlife, particularly marine mammals. I don’t really know why exactly, it’s not like I grew up around boats or spent time on the ocean other than sunbathing at Jones Beach. But on Sunday when I saw the dorsal fin of the first minke whale rise out of the water and then ease back underneath with such elegance and cool – sophistication almost – I was in complete awe. Their manner of movement is so distinct. There’s nothing else like it in the natural world. And when the fin whale, at a further distance from our boat, came up to breathe and spouted 30 feet into the air, I was doubly in awe. Our marine biologist explained that the spout may appear like a fountain of actual water but it isn’t. It’s warm air being expelled from the whale’s lungs. Unlike humans and all other mammals, cetaceans have to breathe through conscious effort. And that effort appears so effortless on observation. While the whales were certainly aware of our presence out there on the water, temporarily encroaching on their habitat, they just went about their business attending to the important matters of life in the wild; feeding, breathing, raising babies. Not trying to impress us, but impressing us anyway. I adore these animals. Big, strong, and intelligent, and also graceful and gentle.

Beautiful watercolors of cetaceans by Scottish wildlife painter and illustrator Archibald Thorburn:

The international commercial whaling ban went into effect in 1986, but some countries get around it through loopholes or just flat out defiance. Japan, Norway, and Iceland are the most guilty culprits. An exception to the whaling moratorium is supposed to be for “scientific” reasons, but that is pretty much a crock of shit, as the whale meat is still being sold on the market for consumption, and the scientific research claim is just BS. And Japan continues its horrific annual dolphin slaughter at Taiji by claiming that dolphins and other small cetaceans are not protected by the whaling ban. (If you haven’t seen the Oscar winning documentary “The Cove” please do see it.)

A seagull that hitched a ride on our boat:

So where are my photos of the whales? I don’t have any! I had planned to take pictures but I soon realized that, honestly, unless you’re a professional photographer with a serious camera and a gigantic lens, it isn’t worthwhile to try and snap crappy iPhone pictures of whales on a whale watch. The length of time in which they’re visible is a brief window – just a precious few seconds. And in those precious seconds I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and relish the experience and not deal with taking a picture.

But I do have a human photo for you. This lady had not only a great camera, but a great hat too!

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:

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:

Heavenly Bodies

Every spring the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute puts on a themed exhibition. It is launched with the star-studded, red carpet Costume Gala – a fundraiser chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. While previous themes have been hit or miss, this year’s theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, is enigmatic and quite spellbinding. Now I’m no fashionista by any means. The lone black Calvin Klein party dress in my closet is my one go-to garment for special occasions. And I bought it on sale! 😆 But it can’t be denied that couture designers are true artists. They are full of creative expression, vision, and virtuosity, doing things with silk, satin, tulle, chiffon, beading, draping, and accessorizing that I couldn’t imagine ever doing myself. Pairing these designers with the Catholicism theme would naturally produce an exhibition that is theatrical, intense, mystical, and visually dazzling.

The Catholic faith practice utilizes a treasure trove of accoutrements and adornments. It is rich and elaborate, beautiful in its devotion and layered depths and textures, with saints, statues, and icons, incense and chalices, veils and intricate vestments, Madonnas and Virgin Marys, angels and archangels, holy water and rosary beads, Latin mass and “in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”. Put these inspirational elements in the hands of fashion creatives and you have quite a show. But as one would expect, this year’s theme also brought its share of controversy. While New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was completely supportive and even attended the gala, other Catholic voices and clergy were not so approving, calling the display sacrilegious and profane. They were particularly offended when pop star Rihanna showed up wearing a miter – the headdress that is worn only by bishops.

I recently attended the exhibition with my dear friend Janet Cook and we really enjoyed experiencing it together. So much fun! I want to share some of my photos here. “Heavenly Bodies” is on display in three locations: there are papal robes and accessories on loan from the Vatican in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. No photos were allowed there, but they’re definitely worth seeing. Then there are the fashions displayed throughout the Byzantine and medieval wing of the Met. And third are more garments and objects uptown at the Met Cloisters. My photos are just from the medieval wing. “Heavenly Bodies” is on view until October 8, so if you’re visiting New York this summer, check it out!

Angel wings by Alexander McQueen:

Christian Lacroix:

Thierry Mugler:

Valentino:

Dolce and Gabbana:

Riccardo Tisci:

Yves Saint Laurent:

Various designers in the ‘Celestial Hierarchy’ gallery:

A row of glittery Versace:

John Galliano:

This Jean Paul Gaultier was one of mine and Janet’s favorites:

And this is the one that got us in trouble. The description said the fabric was jersey, and Janet and I wanted to touch it. So Janet, for what seemed like only a millisecond, touched the fabric between her fingers. Sure enough, a hawk-eyed Met guard came right over to us and said, “Ma’am, ma’am, please, you can’t do that!”. Busted. We apologized, then laughed and cowered away in shame 😆

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 🙂