Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nudity within


This blog is starting out with the contents of a previous blog at Delphi Forums.  Google provides a better set of editing tools for combining photos and text, and with regard to text, is much more "poetry friendly," allowing the poet to choose line lengths rather than having them all glopped together in a continuous paragraph.

Within you will find photos of artworks I have posed for in over twenty years posing for art classes and individual artists, along with my comments about the classes, teachers and artists, and some photos of myself posing, almost always nude.  There is no sexual intention in all of this, simply the desire to share my experiences with artists, other art models, and potential art models.  I have found that sharing my experiences with others has resulted in the recruitment of at least two new art models.

I also share two aspects of my own attempts at art, in poetry and in self-portrait photography.  If seeing photos of a naked, aging, somewhat out of shape male is not your cup of tea, you have been warned!  Minors, even art students, should not view the content within unless they have parental permission to do so.  The photo above is one of my favorites, when I posed for a painting class in the spring of 1996 in front of the full-size plaster cast of Michaelangelo's David, at the end of the cast hall at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the nation's oldest art school.

Comments are welcome, so please let me know what you think.  I have a thick hide: I can take it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Naked Haiku

Art, like life:
messy along the way,
in its ordered end.

Intending no
sacrilege, I offer
my body
for your art.

Curled in the womb
of your gaze,
I await birth
through your
dancing fingers.

Liquid snakes wriggle
down the slanted panes:
birth, life, death
in a moment.

     I don't recall the occasions for the composition of the first two Haiku here, but the second two are vivid in my memory.  "Gestation" came to birth after a session at Doylestown Art Center, run by a talented art teacher.  I had posed for Sunday open sessions there several times, when the owner/teacher asked me to pose one day for a class of neophyte artists, all female, none of whom had drawn from a nude male before.  One pose suggested was literally in a gestation position, which yielded some interesting drawings.  A little reflection later gave me the poem.

     "Rainsnakes" was composed after a night session (or maybe it was just a very dark and stormy afternoon) at Tyler School of Art, the art school affiliated with Temple University.  The studios all had slanted glass roofs, allowing a lot of natural light in during the day.  When it rained, the runoff made interesting patterns down the panes of glass.

A Nun Walks into the Room

     OK, so I'm lying there naked, and a nun comes into the room. No, not a dream. No, not a hospital. It's reality, and no one expects me to do anything but remain naked. It's Chestnut Hill College, a Catholic women's school in a suburb of Philadelphia, one of two Catholic women's schools in Philly where I get paid to be naked. (I learn later that Chestnut Hill went co-ed a decade after my experience there.) I'm the model, twice a week, for six weeks, for a class of young women. 
     Terry, the teacher, had the pose thought out before my arrival, and she informs me we have to reconstruct the whole works each time, since other classes use this studio. We push two heavy tables together, and Terry brings out some cushions and drapery. She makes a big production of arranging cushions and drapery, ending up with a black velvety material under my upper body and a silky dark blue fabric from approximately my waist on down. I'm on my side, right leg drawn up slightly, my head cradles on my right arm. 
     St Joseph's Hall, where all of this takes place, is a beautiful stone building with a rotunda open all the way up - 5 or 6 stories. It stands on a hilltop overlooking the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. (On one trip here, I see three deer nearby, on the banks of the Wissahickon Creek.) To reach the studio where I get naked, I ride an ancient elevator, which must be as old as this lovely building. Terry is careful about covering the single pane of glass in the wooden door of the studio, and does what she can about a bank of windows at the same end of the room that are not completely blocked by a number of storage units. Did anyone try to peek in during my naked time there? I have no idea. 
     The pose for this class is a lazy one, though my right arm often goes to sleep. I generally hold this pose for 30 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. Sometimes, I double up, posing for a full hour before I take a break. During this pose, I still have an evening telemarketing job in Wilmington, Delaware, commuting from one job to the other by motorcycle. The security guard at Chestnut Hill is kind, providing a "Staff" parking permit for my bike, so I can park relatively close to St Joseph's Hall. 
     As I lie in my classic pose, I find myself caught up in counting seconds. 30 minutes = 1800 seconds. I note what I call a "crossover point" on my digital count-down timer: it reads 1120 for 11 minutes, 20 seconds to go at the same point I reach 1120 seconds counting up to 1800. I later discover that it doesn't work all the time, not for five minutes, or ten, but that for any number of minutes divisible by 8, the "crossover point" is a whole number of minutes, such as 300=5 for 8 minutes, and 1500=25 for 40 minutes. There's one answer to the question I often get: "What do you think about when you're lying/sitting/standing there naked?" 
     Terry is a careful classical oil painter. She has the students do preliminary drawings in charcoal. If they desire, they can transfer a "cartoon" (as the Renaissance fresco painters called it) to their canvas. The students use several different techniques for this. Most spend at least the first week (I pose Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1:30 - 4:30 pm) on the drawing, though some go into the second week. One student does a finished drawing in oil pastel before moving on to her painting. Terry has them pay close attention to "underpainting," laying the foundation for the shapes of the final picture. 
     Some places I pose, such as Haverford College, take an entirely different approach, offering a given pose for only one three-hour session, stressing a "loose" style of painting. I listen with interest to Terry's advice to each student. She makes rounds regularly, keeping in close touch with each of her charges. Some pigment names I am familiar with - cadmium red or yellow, thalo green, burnt siena and raw umber - but for a while I am stymied by a color she recommends to a number of students for working flesh tones. I can swear she tells them to use "maple jello." It is some time before I figure out that she is really referring to "Naples yellow." Terry gets a chuckle out of it when I tell her about my error. 
     This is a mixed class, though it is all female. There are two seniors, one of whom does her own thing and does not draw or paint me at all. At least two of the students are freshmen, for whom the experience of painting a nude is brand new. To say nothing of that nude's being male. This leads to an amusing episode one day. As I take my break from posing, donning my green silk robe, I note how intently one student is working on her painting. I move softly over to see her work. She does not see me approaching until I am fairly close. Just as I round the corner, she does see me, and suddenly switches her painting task; up until this moment, she has been absorbed with painting my penis, but obviously feels uncomfortable with this part of me while I am watching her paint, so she pretends she was painting my shoulder instead! 
     It is during the fourth week that the nun incident, such as it is, occurs. I have been aware that the department head is a nun, a Sister of St Joseph, but have only had Terry and her students in the studio while I have been posing. She comes in to speak to Terry when I have just started a 30-minute posing segment. She glances at me briefly, but barely acknowledges my existence. She does not smile, but engages Terry in conversation for several minutes, leaving before my next break.

Posing Naked: a poem


Posing naked--
how can that be?
Strange bedfellowed
odd-coupled words--
posing naked.

Isn't posing:
putting on airs?
assuming a role?
pretending to be something you are not?
Try pretending that you're naked!
Try pretending that you're not
when you are!

Isn't naked open,
honest, nothing hidden?
We say "naked truth,"
and truth is naked,
naked and beautiful,
open and revealed.

Posing is artifice,
naked is nature.
Posing acts a part,
hiding the real as it acts;
what is there of revelation
in posing?

And yet
I pose naked.
I strip my body
to reveal more than body,
I "pose"--is there another word?
I act, holding an imaginary bow,
rowing a non-existent gondola,
bearing a slender stick
as if it were a cross.

They look at me intently,
walk closer from time to time,
frowning when the contour of an arm
will not work on the paper.
Sometimes they touch
skin muscle bone.
How can they fit together?

Sometimes we speak
naturally enough
of things the altogether clad
might share
in clothed communion.

Contradicting the contradiction
I pose naked.
And the posing becomes real
by honest artifice.
Charcoal and paint
paper and pastel
there I am, refracted by air
reflected through eye and brain
onto a surface no longer just surface,
no longer flat, no longer dead.

I have posed naked,
and while I, naked,
may not be beautiful,
yet through my posing
the naked truth
in all its beauty
is revealed.

     This is one of the earliest poems I composed after I started modeling in the fall of 1990.  The illustrations span a number of years.  The first and third are from Jim Rosen's class in the Spring of 1991 at Augusta College.  The last is from Philadelphia, a favorite pose I think of as Charon, the ferryman on the River Styx, roughly drawn from his depiction in Michaelangelo's Last Judgment.  The second is a painting from UNC-Greensboro, another favorite pose that is reclining, but with action of the arms and hands not usually seen in a reclining pose.  If there is an inspiration for this one, it might be the famous photo of the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

Perspective: a poem


It's not just whence
but also how
you look from where
(and how)
you are.

You are and
the object (which
is your subject)
subjected to your
objective view
is, too.

The intersection
of gaze and study
with the isness
is creation's flashpoint.

The fiery letters
danced, they say,
before setting
themselves in stone;
your gaze,
must dance the empty
them with living form
and color.

Your perspective or mine?
Or do all
merge in oneness
if we could but
sit a spirit-space
apart and see
all, not many

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Visual Tracking

Another excerpt from "The Tao of Figure Drawing" by Tom Byrd: 

     In the next class, Prof Rosen has the students do a different warm-up exercise, which he calls "visual tracking." The resultant drawing he calls a "space cage." "We are drawing not the figure as it is, but the figure as it is perceived." This could also be described as "drawing the process of perception," and at first it is a difficult concept for some students to follow through on. 

     As the students gather around, he has me pose and illustrates what he wants. As he views me through his aperture, he calls out where his eye is tracking as he draws a matching line. "My eye rests on his beard, moves to his left elbow, across to his penis, down to the right big toe, back to the right heel, up to the left knee, and so forth." 

     After the students do this exercise, he has them turn their easels around for criticism. Some have ended up with an outline of at least part of my figure. One clearly shows the shape of my head and nose. This is not what Rosen wants. "The eye doesn't work that way," he says. "It makes straight lines, not curved ones. If you are sensitive to how your eye sees a curve, you will find that it tracks back and forth along it, checking one side, then the other in a zig-zag, a series of straight lines. There is no way, if you are honest in doing this exercise, that you will end up outlining the head, or any other part of the body." 

     After the final attempt at this exercise, Rosen allows the students to begin filling in the figure, working over the palimpsest of the visual tracking exercise. The illustrations in this post show first poor visual tracking, showing the outline of the figure. The other two show a pose and a very successful exercise with that pose.

St Jerome: Story of a Painting

     One of the more interesting people I met while living in Philadelphia was Tom Kohlman. A graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he was working as a security guard at the Academy auxiliary classroom building at 1301 Cherry Street, just a block from the main building at Broad and Cherry. Tom was very serious about his painting, and was also a devout Catholic. He was close with Al Gury, a painting teacher at the Academy (and at several other schools in town), who was also a devout Catholic, and who often painted religious themes. (For more on Al, see my first blog entry, "Synchronicity.") 

     Tom asked if I would pose privately for him one day, and I agreed. The first project he wanted to try was the beheading of John the Baptist, and I posed for that a session or two at his apartment. I don't think he finished that one. Later he contacted me about another project, a painting of St Jerome's vision of an angel. For the angel, he chose a young African American boy in his parish; we posed separately, never together, and I never met the other model. 

     Tom got permission to set up a studio in St Patrick's Catholic School, not far from Rittenhouse Square, at the time closed and undergoing renovation. This took place in the summer of 1995, during an incredible heat wave. I will never forget one August evening when the temperature out on the street was over 110 degrees at 7 in the evening, when we finished work for the day. 

     The pose was not an easy one for me. As you can see from the "pose" photo, I was kneeling, with one arm on a desk and the other on the back of a chair. For support, I had a concrete block topped with a bit of foam padding for my right buttock. 

     Tom spent a total of 40 hours, as I recall it, working on the painting with me posing. In lieu of cash, I posed a good many of those sessions in exchange for another painting of his, an impressionistic depiction of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. 

     I am not aware of whether Tom ever finished the painting. It was getting close in the photo "painting 2," as you can see, but he was unsatisfied with many aspects of it. During a couple of the posing sessions in the closed school, I took my camera and posed myself (with a timer on the camera) on another floor of the building. The photos from those sessions belong in a larger collection I think of as "Mirrors, Windows and Doors."  The three here are titled, from top to bottom, "Into the Light," "Invitation" and "Window Seat."