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."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Joy of Foreshortening

     "The Joy of Foreshortening" is the title of a book someone should write. In my years of modeling for art classes, I see foreshortening as the concept that makes possible the representation of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. It also makes for great comic book art: where would action comics be without fist-in-your-face foreshortening? 
     Want to see some extreme foreshortening? Consider a baseball game on TV. Put a long-lens telephoto camera out in center field, looking toward home plate. It must be a couple of hundred feet from here to the batter, catcher and umpire, but those three are crunched up against the pitcher, the second baseman and the center fielder in the camera's view. You KNOW it's a couple of hundred feet, but the gang of six guys is all bunched up in a tight line. 

     Mike Ananian, Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing at UNC-G for just over 15 years, loves teaching foreshortening. In the class illustrated by the photos here, he specifically asked me for a reclining pose that would "give everybody a foreshortening exercise." 

     It is the kind of pose I can easily hold for 30 minutes, or even an hour, before taking a break. After about an hour, he called a break for the students - but not for me. He asked me to hold the pose, asked the students to turn their easels around, and conducted a crit that lasted a good twenty minutes while I continued to lie there, naked, in the middle of the room. No big deal for me: getting naked is an essential part of the job. 
 But there is a sense in which it "feels" different when no one is drawing, but people are still looking at me, naked, in the middle of the room full of clothed people. You can see me in the foreground of the first photo above. 

      A fuller view, surrounded just by the drawings, is at the bottom, for those who dare such a foreshortened view. Note some of the "tools of the trade" on the platform: a digital timer, because I have learned not to trust a teacher to keep the time, some pads to soften the surface, masking tape to mark my position, so I can resume the pose after a break, my robe, which must be worn when off the posing platform, and an Indian flute, which I use as a prop in other poses. Note that each drawing has a note from Mike's lecture about the foreshortening process, such as "fighting the urge to draw what you know." The greatest trick to interpreting foreshortening onto the paper is to be able to draw what you SEE, not what you know, or think you know. The length of the foot equals the height of the head (or at least it does on my body), but if the foot is a lot closer than the head, it's going to look bigger than the head.

Dirty Pictures

     It was early on in my work at UNC-G that I posed for the class of a visiting professor (sorry, I don't recall her name). Her proposal to the class was that they paint with dirt - that's right, dirt. 

     Each student was to bring in some dirt, preferably of different colors. The dirt was mixed with water, just as any pigment is mixed with a carrier of some kind, and applied to large sheets of plywood. Everyone shared, so each artist had a variety of colors on his/her odd pallet. 

     The final work was to be photographed, since it obviously would not be very durable, would in no way meet "archival standards." The students brought in a surprising variety of colors of soil that day, and I posed just as I would have had they been working with charcoal, pastels or oil paints. The results were quite good, as you can see in the examples provided.

Warmenuf's Crucifixion

     In an earlier post you may see my fascination with the actual history of crucifixion, including the fact that the Romans did not allow their victims to wear loincloths - they were stripped naked for crucifixion. The loincloths you see on almost all Christian crucifixes are a product of puritanical church tradition, with no input from actual history. (And remember, in the gospels, a key part of the story is the gambling of the Roman soldiers for the clothing of the condemned.) 

     When I arrived at the sculpture studio at PAFA, 1301 Cherry St, Philadelphia, that summer, I had no idea what kind of pose the instructor had in mind. I was not unpleased when he said "crucifixion," though I knew it would be difficult. 

     Luckily, I was in better shape back then! My arms were held up by straps attached to pipes overhead. As you can see in the final photo at the bottom, I had all my weight on one foot. For twenty minutes at a time, with five-minute breaks in between, I did this pose for either five or six 3-hour class sessions. 

     Most students opted for traditional renditions, but Marcie, who is Jewish, didn't care for the crucifixion angle, so she altered the position of my arms to make it a more dance-like pose. During at least one class, I spent part of the time posing with my arms in the positions depicted in her sculpture, just for her. In conversation during one class, Marcie mentioned her pet ferrets. I asked the question she said she loved to hear: "What do you feed your ferrets." After drawing this out a bit, she finally replied "I feed them ferret food!" 

     As to the pose, it was probably the most difficult sustained pose I have ever done. My arms went to sleep each time, and were barely recovering at the end of each five-minute break. But it was worth it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Umbrella Pose

      "Where do you get your ideas for poses?" For me, it can be just about anywhere. I use the "umbrella pose" mainly for painting classes or for drawing classes that include the use of color. Since Mike Ananian encourages the use of color in his "Figure Drawing II" classes at UNC-G, I try to use the umbrella pose for those classes. I think the "rainbow" umbrella certainly adds something to this pose.  
     For me, it began in 1965, with an issue of Playboy Magazine that included the feature "Girls of the Riviera." One of the young French (I suppose) models was standing on a beach holding an umbrella. A feminine pose, if you will. One of the things I like to do to add variety to the poses I do for art classes is to do deliberately "feminine" poses from time to time.     

     The best female models I know also mix active, "masculine" poses into their posing repertoire. "Variety is the spice of art," that's my motto - it applies to poses as well as to variety in models for art classes. During my most recent use of the "Umbrella pose" at UNC-G, last spring, the first day I did the pose was a "crit" day, so only about an hour was left after the homework crit for actual drawing. An almost unanimous request came from the students to continue the pose in the next class period. Since I had my digital camera, I asked one of the students to take several photos of the pose to help reconstruct it for the next class meeting. This, and masking tape marks for my position and that of the posing platform on the floor, helped us to duplicate it pretty well the following Wednesday.

Mark Gottsegen: Art Teacher

     Mark Gottsegen retired from teaching a couple of years ago, after 3 decades at UNC-Greensboro. He retired to further devote himself to "materials and standards" work, something he has been engaged in for many years. He is the author of "The Painter's Handbook," available on Amazon.com and also, I believe, available for download at his website. I posed for his classes at UNC-G from 1996 until his retirement from the faculty there.

     Mark is a very interesting guy, and students either love him or hate him - sometimes both. He claims that he can teach "anyone" to draw, if they will follow his direction. I often thought about taking him up on that, since I am one of those who believes that he simply can't draw. I do know that students who took him seriously, and really tried to apply his principles, truly learned something and became better artists. 
     Mark was a lover of what many would consider "gimmicks" in teaching. One of the photos below shows him wearing a red clown nose, just one of many props he used from time to time. Other props included a buggy whip and a pitchfork, plus Jerry Lewis style false teeth. The first photo below features his "No Whining" button.  Other photos here show a painting class "crit" and a pose I think of as "skin and bones," since my posing companion is a skeleton. Even though I have not posed for Mark's classes for over three years now, I can still hear his voice echoing in my memory: "Measure! Erase! Change the drawing!" 

     Mark has a connection to a celebrity. His first cousin, Attorney Lisa Gottsegen, is also Mrs Dustin Hoffman. It was Mark who pointed out to us one day that when Hoffman's character in the movie "Rainman" is asked whether he memorized the entire phonebook, he replies "No, I stopped in the G's; I stopped when I got to Gottsegen" the actor was deliberately alluding to his wife's last name. 

     Two of the drawings posted here are from "double-pose" sessions, something Mark liked to have me do from time to time. I would do two different poses, alternating them 20 minutes at a time, and the students would draw the interaction. The first posted drawing was inspired by a scene in the movie "The Ten Commandments," when Moses is brought before Pharaoh just before his banishment to the desert. The final drawing, "Front & Back," is from another "two poses" session.

In the Salad Bowl

     One of the coolest things about posing at the same school for a number of years is watching people progress. Timid, though sometimes brilliant, freshmen become self-assured seniors, art teachers become better at their teaching year by year, and sometimes, a student becomes a teacher at the same school. 

     That was the case with the teacher of this class. I think her name was Janet, but don't hold me to that: I have known many Janets, both as teachers and students. She wanted an outdoor drawing session, something Mark Gottsegen also liked to do with drawing classes in warm weather. 

     Obviously, in an urban university it is not possible to use a nude model in such an outdoor setting! Janet's notion was a piece of fabric that could look like a Greek or Roman philosopher's garb. The weather was warm, so I chose to be nude under the completely-covering sheet. 

     We did two different poses, one seated, one standing by a tree, in the lower end of a park that extends westward from Aycock Auditorium along Spring Garden St. I'm not sure if "The Salad Bowl" is in any way an official name for this lower end of the park, but it fits. It was a very pleasant day for all. 

     In the seated pose, there is a bottle of Mountain Dew near me. I will guarantee you it was not mine! My opinion of Mountain Dew is summed up by this joke: A man sent a sample of Mountain Dew, unlabeled, to the state health lab. A couple of weeks later he got this reply: "Dear sir: We regret to inform you that your horse has diabetes."


     In communication with artist Bob Worthy of Virginia, I learned he was interested in a special body cast. I agreed, and on a trip to NC he did the deed.   Above, I am finishing application of Vaseline to keep the plaster from sticking.  To the right, I am on the table, ready for the plaster (the same strips of plaster used for broken bones) to be applied.

     Melissa was a grad student at UNC-G I had met in classes there, and she agreed to assist. This was especially important since Bob had not done exactly this sort of thing before. His notion was to end up with a concrete cast that would suggest a body on a battlefield, tying into his deep interest in the Civil War. 

     I set up a table in our foyer on Spring Garden St, and I got plastered. Bob took the photos; this shows how digital photography has progressed, doesn't it? This was done somewhere between 2000 and 2002, I believe. All the photos he shared with me fit on a 3.5 in floppy disk!  Drying did not take long; the stuff heats up as it dries. It's hard to imagine doing a full-body cast, though I would definitely be open to that someday. I was surprised at how small a problem body hair was; only a couple stuck in the plaster, and there was minimal pain during the removal of the cast. Thanks, Bob & Melissa, for an interesting experience!