Thursday, April 17, 2008

Workin' the Day Job

So in the past week I've had a lot of modeling work. I modeled for the third year in a row for the big, twelve hour, all night drawing extravaganza. Sad to say there was nothing this year to rival last year's event, at least not for me. I also seemed to be knocked out by the 'all nightness' of it more this year. I think the excitement has worn off.

Wednesday night though, I worked at a new-to-me place called the Salmagundi Club. It is one of those old beautiful buildings on 5th avenue, a former stately home (I assume) that now houses a society of watercolorists, drawing classes, a member dining room, a library, and probably a whole lot else I didn't take note of. It's not often I get inside one of these places; funnily enough when I do, I'm usually naked. That sounds so much more exciting than it is. One serious danger to art modeling, I'm starting to realize, is it risks associating nudity with work. It's been so long since I was naked for someone who didn't have a drawing pad in his hand.

Moving on. I think it's cool when organizations like this get into these beautiful old places; they're probably better equipped to maintain the structure, and they make it more likely that a greater part of the general population gets to enjoy it. Most of my indoor life in NYC is spent in cramped, dimly lit living spaces, run-down, poorly lit rehearsal studios, or run-down, poorly lit classrooms. Oh, and sometimes black box theatres. With bad lighting. So being in an elegant, spacious, airy place is quite lovely and startling. It's odd to remember that for some New Yorkers, this is what the city is like. When I was a dog-walker, I saw the way some people live here. Believe me, it's a whole other place.

(As a side note, this is the neighborhood Henry James usually wrote about, when he set things in NYC. I read Agnes De Mille's biography of Martha Graham a few years ago, and it was funny to realize that when Graham and her contemporaries were starving artists, this area, around Washington Square Park, was where they found cheap apartments and rehearsal spaces. If you're not familiar with NYC, this area is now very pricey. Most of Manhattan is, but this is particularly so. There are no modern dance studios in the area that I'm aware of. Melissa, am I wrong? This process of gentrification is just part of the city experience, but it still amuses me to picture what this neighborhood must have looked like when it was 'the frontier.')

So that was one of the nice things about this Wednesday night class. The other was the fact that the students were all grown-ups, and serious artists. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy modeling for undergraduates. It's fun watching their progress from self-absorbed, insecure, criticism-shy waifs and grumps, to self-confident, analytical students with actual opinions. Not all of them make this transition, of course, but most do. Even at the start, some of them are very sweet. Most of the first-years (who I spend most of my time with) don't notice my existence at all, which is understandable, since they're 18, and if they're thinking about schoolwork at all (rather than just about getting laid), they're thinking about how much of it they have, and how little of it they want to do (since it interferes with the getting laid). Still, they're fun, and funny, and occasionally even develop an appreciation for what I do.

It's not until I'm in a room full of grown-ups though, that I remember what a luxury that is. And this was an especially nice bunch. There were more men than I usually see in settings like this; as I've mentioned before, the adult groups tend to be mostly very hip grandmothers, but this was an even mix of men and women, and a pretty wide range of ages. Seemed like a consistently high level of skill and talent too, from the glances I stole at their artwork.

Several of them were also unafraid to talk to the naked guy, which is always a nice surprise. One artist that I got to chat with, Ben Conrad, has a website and blog. I really like his work. The fact that I'm posting a link to his blog when there is a drawing of me on it is pure coincidence. He explores a variety of styles, subjects, and materials, which I find inspiring.

He was very gallant when informing me about the posting, reassuring me that it was an image I could safely send my family and friends. Ya'll can stop snorting now. He doesn't know me very well yet, and I thought it was very thoughtful. And no Mom, I'm not naked in EVERY play I do. There have been three. Okay, four. Four plays in twenty years though, okay?

I have browsed through most of Ben's galleries, and so far my favorites are the bird on wires, and the past-futurist series. The Birds on Wires series makes me think of Indiana, funnily enough. There's nothing about the images that says they couldn't be from New York City (indeed the plethora of wires would suggest someplace reasonably urban), but they make me think of wide open spaces, big sky, quiet surroundings, and the dry, dusty light of August. I also like how they suggest sheet music in some cases. Browsing through the blog, I've gotten the impression that Ben stays up on what is going on in the museums and galleries, something I'm very bad about. I'm bad at staying up on what is happening in the theatres, sad to say. It will be fun having an inside eye on the New York art scene.


Java said...

You make it sound so fun! I guess this week was more fun for you than usual. I told Mama I have a friend who's job is to sit around and be beautiful. I'm going to check out Ben Conrad's website now.

Jess said...

Wait, was that four plays in which you were or weren't naked? :)

Butch said...

Hi Patrick,

I went to Mr. Conrad's site and like what he does as well. You and I agree about what we like best of his works.

The birds on the telephone lines remind me of a story I will tell later about the last major earthquake that hit the Nasqually Basin region of Washington State, which, as you know, is close by Olympia. It also affected Seattle with damage as well.

I would imagine it must be difficult maintaining a posing position for a long time whilst modeling. I have never been able to stay still for long periods of time. I recognized your drawing almost at first glance scanning through the drawings. He is very good and I like the way he contrasts the shadows with the light with his technique.

Thank you.

Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick said...

Patrick said...
Java: the job really is fun most of the time, which is why I'm still willing to do it. Generally the people I meet are pretty cool, and it's fun having one toe in another artistic community. Oh, if only I got to sit around at work most of the time! That would be heaven. Being expected to be beautiful would be a daunting task though; fortunately they don't really require that of me. I get hired for other reasons. :)

Jess: Yes, four naked plays, smart guy. All too often I'm wearing way too MUCH clothing in my plays. In fact there was a point there where my plays in August seemed to involve several layers of wool, while the naked plays tended to all happen in December. Fortunately those stage lights put out more heat than people realize.

Butch: I look forward to hearing the earthquake story. My roommate, a fellow Hoosier, was telling me that Indiana just had one, 5.2 on the Richter scale! We knew a fault ran through Indina, but that's still the biggest earthquake I've ever heard of in the area. The only one I ever experienced (thus far) was when I lived in Seattle. I don't remember how big it was; not terribly, but it was still wild. The way it affected the sense of time was also weird. It probably lasted less than 30 seconds, but at the time seemed much longer.

Just to be clear, the drawing Ben did of me is on his blog; I haven't yet earned the privilege of appearing on his website. I think he only posts finished works there anyway, and this was just three and half hour sketch. It's right at the top of the blog though, you'll recognize me.

Standing poses (like this one) are especially hard. Some models refuse to do them, or will do so only if paid extra, since in order to be at all interesting compositionally, one has to rest all one's weight on one leg, for a contraposto look. (I may not be spelling contraposto right.) Obviously this starts to wear on one's knees. As luck would have it, I was asked to do another three hour standing pose the following afternoon. I made sure to put all my weight on the OTHER leg. This is the sort of thing you learn to do when you're a professional. Holding still has never been too difficult for me (once I learned what was physically maintainable), but most long poses will end up hurting or making some body part go numb. We pose for twenty minutes, then break for five, but by the end of the day, one is still sore. I don't think modeling has caused any of my chronic pain problems, but it probably hasn't really helped them either.

Greg said...

I sat for a group of artists once in Provincetown (but clothed), and man, it was hard to stay still. It must have taken plenty of practice doing so standing, *and* naked. I can totally see where you'd be sore when it was through.

Nice sketch of you, though. So, nudity's a specialty for you, eh? : )

I'm always interested in the various lives of different parts of a city, as they rise or fall in popularity. Fun that you had the chance to see one of those otherwise-exclusive bits of Manhattan beauty.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!!

somewhere joe said...

Now that's a gig, posing naked in a quiet, sumptuous setting, worth cultivating. You should make it your specialty.

I wish I could say that I recognize you in Ben's drawing. Your hands are lashed together in my version. :oP

I really like Ben's Bird-Wire series. It's very original. There's a timeless drawing feeling, while the subject lends itself to abstraction and endless compositional riffs.

oscar said...

I never really realized that posing could be such hard work! But the results are great. I loved the drawing(s) on Ben's webpage.
I have done some sketching in my youth, but was never really good at it. I really enjoyed it though. Fulfilled some kind of need I never knew I had. And that was just 'Still Lives'. Imagine what would've happened if we had live nude male models...

Patrick said...

Joe: Yes, that's a good idea, especially since most of those elegant places would be a short commute, as was this one.

I already told Java,the phrase 'tying up loose ends' is always going to send a shiver of delight down my back from now on, thanks to her. Any plans on posting your sketch? And it's only my hands that are lashed together? So I take it it's a work in progress? :)

Yes, I think one of the things I like about the Bird-Wire series is the way it shows how endless the variety of images is, based on such an elegantly simple concept. I like how little it takes to create a sense of huge depth too. One mid-sized bird on a wire combined with a flying flock of tiny birds, and you're suddenly seeing miles of sky.

somewhere joe said...

I had a crush on Houdini as a kid - or rather on his persona since he had long since taken his final bow. He was always nearly naked in those old photographs, and often bound with chains... pretty heady stuff for back then. I'm sure he was well aware of the sex appeal behind all that stripped-down daring-do.

One of the things I admire about you Patrick, is that you've managed to stitch together a life and a living using all these classical elements - life-modeling, mask-making, acrobatics, theater - of your own choosing. And made it work. Your affection for, and recovery of, ancestral forms is part of it. People talk about life-as-art. You're doing it. And in a kind of relaxed, free-wheeling way that has an atavistic appeal in itself. There's a bit of The Fool in the son of the scholar.

NY is the a great environment for all this of course. But I suspect that you'd weave together another personal tapestry, using the threads at hand, wherever you were.

Cooper said...

I, too, like the Bird on the wire series bst. I love the way they scurry and stop in perfect unison a few inches apart from one another. The way they run in parallel lines, looping and stopping on unseen cues ... just as you say, like notes of sheet music. In a way, too, they are like punctuation, showing us how to breathe and organize and dramatize our songs and quiet spaces.

I guess in a way, when you model, your body becomes the symbolic expression of this same wingedness. Songs of skin and bone, the webbing of the heart.

Anonymous said...

I've never been comfortable with the notion of being a model, although another part of me thinks it would be a blast.

I took a look at Ben's work and love it, especially the work of you... amazing how a wonderful subject transmits such joy for the artist and the enthusiasts too.


Sh@ney said...

The artist is very good. Dare I ask if he painted your better side...*giggles* Just kidding of course! I doubt you would have a bad side to you...And I have good judgment! *winks*