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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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:-)

Pietàs of Passion

The word “pietà” means “pity” in Italian. Its Latin origin translates into “piety” or “duty”. In art, a Pietà is any representation of Mary mourning the dead body of the crucified Christ. It is a scene of powerful emotional import. If other figures from the New Testament are also depicted, the work is often called “Lamentation”. On this Good Friday, a collection of pietas for my readers.

The pietà subject presents many options for artists, both compositionally and stylistically. Some are horizontal, others are vertical. Some depict the body of Christ with blood and wounds, while others omit them in favor of an unscathed figure. Some emphasize the pain, agony, and grief of the moment, while others take an almost serene, quietly mournful approach.

We’ll start with the archetype, the pietà that sets the standard for all others; Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpiece located in St. Peter’s Basilica. Completed in 1499, and carved from a single slab of Carrara marble, it is the only work by Michelangelo that he ever signed. It received much criticism for its portrayal of an impossibly youthful Mary, who appears far too young to be the mother of a 33 year old man. But Michelangelo defended his choice. Designed in a pyramid shape, Michelangelo’s Pietà is considered a foremost example of Renaissance sculpture:

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One of my favorite pietas is this painting by Annibale Carracci, 1600. The hand gesture of Mary is an extraordinary detail, and I love the lights and darks:

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Pietà, 1876, is presented in the French academic style for which the artist is known. Mary stares straight ahead, surrounded by sorrowful angels:

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A striking Pietà by Luis de Morales, 1570. Again, the prominent placement of Mary’s hands.

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Andrea Del Sarto, 1524, oil on wood. Christ’s face is barely visible here, as the surrounding figures seem to dominate the composition:

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A surrealist Pietà from Salvador Dali who clearly modeled this work after Michelangelo. His works of religious themes are really impressive. I’m a huge fan. I posted his Ascension of Christ here a few years ago:

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Sebastiano del piombo’s Pietà, ca 1515, takes a different approach, with Christ lying flat on the ground as Mary prays:

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Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, 1485, in tempera by Carlo Crivelli, is a fine example of the early Renaissance style:

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Pietà by Moretto da Brescia, ca. 1530. Sorrow and pain come across in the facial expressions and gestures:

Moretto da Brescia (Italian, 1498 - 1554 ), Pietà, 1520s, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection

The desolate landscape works to great effect here in this Pietà, 1854, by the superb symbolist painter Gustave Moreau:

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And here’s something you won’t see in any museum. A “pieta” on the streets of New York. Spring Studio‘s Minerva Durham plays Mary to a Jesus acted out by artist’s model and dancer Magic Distefano, in the middle of Lafayette Street. That’s Andrew Bolotowsky on flute. There wasn’t a music accompanist at Calvary, but there is in SoHo:

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To all my readers, a blessed Easter weekend … lift up your hearts in rebirth, renewal, the coming of spring, and light everlasting …

Love you all:-)

Claudia

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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Lambent Beauty

Moonrise – D.H. Lawrence

And who has seen the moon, who has not seen
Her rise from out the chamber of the deep,
Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber
Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw
Confession of delight upon the wave,
Littering the waves with her own superscription
Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us
Spread out and known at last, and we are sure
That beauty is a thing beyond the grave,
That perfect, bright experience never falls
To nothingness, and time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

Elliott Daingerfield, Moon Rising over Fog Clouds, watercolor. Collection of Metropolitan Museum:

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Flying Colors

A funny bit of synchronicity happened the other night when I was modeling at the National Art League in Queens. For an eight session booking with instructor Rob Silverman, I am set up wearing a skirt, hat, and shawl, sitting on a lawn chair, reading a book. The clothing is mine, which I brought to the first session at Rob’s request, but the book was a last minute addition. I didn’t have one with me, so we took one from the League bookshelf. We models are sometimes asked to do the “posing while reading” routine, as it makes for a nice composition, showing the subject more “active” than just sitting in a chair and staring into space. And with our set-up, the student artists can paint in an “outdoor” nature setting for the background and experiment with that, if they so choose.

So the book I’m reading is an old publication from the 1950s called Color for Profit by Louis Cheskin, who I’ve learned was the marketing brain behind “The Marlboro Man” ad campaign. Though the title is less than inspiring, the book is actually quite interesting! It’s a manual that discusses the effective use of color in advertising, packaging, and commercial design, in addition to exploring the science of colors and their various psychological effects. Out of curiosity, I looked the book up on Amazon and lo and behold, there it was. Although my pose-reading during the class is a bit hampered by my not be able to wear my reading glasses, I have been able to decipher some interesting lines through my blurred vision. For example, yellow is not a “preferred” color for many people, but it has strong “retention”. “Peach”, on the other hand, is a well-liked color but is also more easily forgotten. Also, there are regional preferences in colors among consumers. What goes over well on California billboards and store shelves may not go over well in New Jersey’s.

Moving along, Rob was doing was one of his very informative demos for the class. He’s really a superb teacher and I’ve posed for him many times. He took this photo of me in a pose from a class last year. So I was in the pose for the demo, and when a student asked a question about background colors, Rob’s response was, in substance, the exact same thing I was reading at that very moment in the Color for Profit book – page 95:  “Because warm colors advance and cool colors recede, overly warm colors should be avoided on backgrounds”. What a coincidence! I was listening to the discussion while posing, eyes downcast, and a smile crept across my face. If I wasn’t such a consummate professional (hehe) I would have jumped out of my chair, held up the book and said “Haha, I just read that!”. Now even though the book is dealing with packaging and merchandising, the qualities of colors remain the same no matter what – in fine arts, in commercial arts, makes no difference.

Here is Rob’s demo work of me in my “sitting and reading” pose. And there’s the book!

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And this color study is by Paul David Elsen, class monitor and a wonderful artist who has been an absolute pleasure to work with. I love these kinds of loose paint sketches.

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Rough Beasts

Well hello there everyone. Happy New Year! My holiday break is almost over and I spent an inordinate bulk of it curled up in bed under the covers, wrestling with anxiety and insomnia. If that strikes you as a symptom of depressive behavior you’d be correct. Sure I could ascribe it to the “holiday blues” syndrome, which I’m told is a legitimate thing, or I could just be honest and acknowledge that I’m prone to this disorder, and have been for some time. So forgive me if I don’t offer a blog post bursting with good cheer, high hopes, and sanguine sentiments for the new year. However, you have my word that I’ll soon shake off this gloom and doom weepy dark cloud, or the “black dog” as Winston Churchill called it.

What’s interesting to me is how fear, anxiety, and disaffection have been potent catalysts for creative expression throughout history. While joyous, uplifting works of art are certainly among the greatest, most memorable of all time (Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is a prime example), the ominous, and at times alarming, works of expression are compelling in a much different way. And just as memorable.

I’ve stated before on this blog that William Butler Yeats is one of my favorite poets. I’ve featured him here, here, and here and I’m going to feature him again right now. This very well-known Yeats poem is one that I find apropos with regard to the world right now. Here is The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I came across an excellent essay in The Paris Review which describes The Second Coming as “the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English”. It discusses the remarkable scope of references to the poem in pop culture and the arts, ranging from rock bands, comic books, artists and writers .. all of whom could not resist appropriating Yeats’s haunting and evocative turns of phrases. Who can blame them? The man was absolutely brilliant. Think about what he communicates with the imagery of  “the falcon cannot hear the falconer”. Here’s a paragraph from the Paris Review piece:

Yeats began writing the poem in January 1919, in the wake of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and political turmoil in his native Ireland. But the first stanza captures more than just political unrest and violence. Its anxiety concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them.

George Frederic Watts, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Rider on the Black Horse, 1878:

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation