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!

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:

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 🙂

Alphabet City with Fred

Today is the birthday of my very dear friend Fred Hatt. Happy Birthday Fred!!!! 🙂 Fred and I are both celebrating significant birthdays this year: 60 for him, 50 for me (July). So to commemorate our milestone decades we plan to prolong the party through the summer and deal with aging in the best possible way; by having fun, appreciating each other, and enjoying the big city we both call home.

Last Thursday night Fred and I attended an event in the East Village; “I Ching Alchemy” sculptures and video projection show by our mutual friend Lili White. It was held outdoors in Le Petit Versailles Garden between Avenue A and B – the section of downtown Manhattan known as ‘Alphabet City’. Nobody is better at converting dumpy urban lots into community gardens than East Villagers. They have a gift for it. The space of the Petit Versailles garden was, decades ago, an auto chop shop. Now it’s flower beds, trees, little rock-lined paths, pottery shards, empty picture frames, glass balls, mirrors, ribbons, strings of skull head lights, Tibetan figurines, loose tiles, and any quirky found object that occupies a spot. A busted ceramic urn? Stick it in there. It’s a garden folks, East Village style. The residents down there are fiercely civic-minded, and they will take care of things themselves if the city ignores them. Actually, they prefer it that way. And if raising rents force some thrift shop or vinyl record store out of business they have a collective meltdown 😆

Hanging out with Fred means seeing him suddenly whip out his camera to snap a photo. Nothing escapes this man’s eye! He spotted the shadow shapes that formed on the brick face of the building, just around dusk. With the warm glow of the light strings it created an interesting vision. So I took a photo myself:

The 1958 baby and the 1968 baby 🙂 Fred and I, selfie in the garden. My brilliant, beautiful best buddy whose friendship I value beyond words. The very first friend I made as an artist’s model.

Drawing of me by Fred from 2015. Created at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn:

It’s not a Music Monday but we’ll have a Music Tuesday instead! As Lili’s video installation projected onto the side of the building, a fantastic old song accompanied her images. A great choice that truly reflected the spirit of the evening. Please enjoy “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, a classic R&B song from 1975. Buoyant, catchy, uplifting, meaningful. So good. You’ll be up and dancing by the end. 🙂

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:

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: