In all the years, I've been life drawing, I'm ashamed to say I have never made friends with the model. We've chatted of course, when they've come round in the breaks to see what I've done, but I've never stopped to consider what they think about when they are sitting on a piece of old curtain staring out at a room full of artists staring back at them to seek out every line, every perfection or imperfection and turn it into a portrait. I've often wondered but never asked, why they do it or how they got into it. Sometimes I've wondered if I could do it myself; I know it's deceptively difficult, but I've never asked about the emotional, physical or intellectual demands. I've just accepted my models have generously given up their bodies for me to draw.
Kelley Swain (right) has put this into words. Taking a month-long assignment in Bruges as the structure for this memoir, she has woven her reflections on life modelling with her perceptions of art and art criticism and the etiquette surrounding life modelling, from the perils of sitting too long and getting cold to the wielding of power and the impatience of some artists who forget she's a real human being. It is illuminating and beautiful.
Kelley, when not modelling, is an author and a poet and she brings her lyrical style, wit and insight to her observations in a way that is completely engaging. And I am surprised how varied and stimulating the work is.
People who've never done life drawing, often mistake it for something sexual. It's not. Perhaps because we spend so much of our time clothed, we forget how wonderful the human form is, we look on it as something shameful or to be sniggered at, we don't trust ourselves in its presence because generally the only other adult we see naked is a partner. But the model, if she's a woman, is only a variation of what I can see every day in a mirror should I wish to.
I love dance, because I love light and movement and I love life drawing for the same reason. The human body, even in response, is alive with movement, the skin scintillates under light, and undulates with breath, it's the sheer 'movingness' that draws me.
This book has revealed a new depth to life drawing
and given me insights I hope will help my art. If you are a life artist or interested in the elusive enduring power of the muse, I defy it not to have the same effect on you.