Nora Byrne
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Words

Arts, Arabic, Adventures

Back to my roots...

When I first started modeling, I pictured images of myself cropping up around town, filling the local galleries with my exhibitionism and open mind. Occasionally this does happen, but rarely with one-on-one work. It took developing my own (however minor) artistic practice before I really understood the delay between my posing for an idea and it becoming a finished product.

My distaste for actual finished work provides instant gratification for models, unless they wanted to see something that looked like them.

My distaste for actual finished work provides instant gratification for models, unless they wanted to see something that looked like them.

The more I develop as a maker the more I relate to this delay. Creative motivation is strange and intangible. There are some days where I’ll set up my bottle of medium, palette knife and favorite bits of paper and then sit in front of a panel until it’s time to make more coffee. After coffee I can pick up a pen and my sketchbook, neck deep in the angles of the porch next to the organic contours of the plants in the window boxes. The panel sits abandoned simply because I don’t feel like collaging. There’s a certain amount of inspiration, intuition that is entirely mercurial; sometimes projects move at the slowest pace imaginable.

Wearing my model hat I’m not privy to any of these artistic struggles, thus I’ve taken the route of not even considering when a project will be finished. I always considered this a simple coping mechanism, one of the few downsides of the job. Then, a little while ago, I checked Instagram and an artist I worked with in Los Angeles posted a few drawings she had just finished.

SHE'S excited about this?

SHE'S excited about this?

I had a small moment of “ooh that’s nice,” another, “huh. have I seen this one before?” followed by “That is me? Of course it’s me. Wait. What?” It looks like me, and I did spend that afternoon wandering around Venice Beach in a bikini, lying on trees that had pretty definitely been urinated on in the past week. This was three years ago, and I honestly hadn’t thought about it in one or two of those years. She, clearly, had been working throughout. Her website has a large graphite inspired by our trip to the roots, and it's part of her Being and Becoming paintwork. 

I’m assuming everyone knows that transportive feeling when you smell something that reminds you of an something else. Blooming jasmine brings me immediately back to Scientologist Celebrity Center, jogging to Ivan Ooze. Tempura batter, and Cantonese kitchen staff are shouting excitedly at me and my sister, pointing from one to the other. The unexpectedness of this drawing yielded the same type of conveyance, and it stopped me in my tracks. 

Savage’s drawing looks young, but maybe not young. I’m almost looking back in time it’s at this serene, naive version of myself. I’m not sure how much of her I’ve ever been, or how much of her I still have, but I feel a strong connection to the figure. Of course one series is titled Becoming, and I want to hug her and slap her at the same time for finding that beauty and power and even a Buffy reference in whatever images she took of me.

Becoming I, Oil on Panel, Kate Savage, 2016. 

Becoming I, Oil on Panel, Kate Savage, 2016. 

Yet the drawing isn’t me and Savage never meant it to be me. It’s easy to make the connections to non-human beings. Nymphs, tree spirits, any number of mythological figures designed to personify the natural world. Agelessness is entirely appropriate, almost expected. They’re considered beings outside the passage of our years, inhuman yet relatable. Look at Tolkien’s (did anyone think I wouldn’t get here?) elves - they age slower than humans, more closely connected to the forests. 

It’s weirdly fitting that I wouldn’t see it until I had basically forgotten I’d ever posed for the project. I find it incredible that the drawing so perfectly expresses what I am bound to feel looking at it, but I wonder if others see it that way. How much has my posing for this drawing influenced my ability to understand it? I’m often able to detach myself from both the work and my analysis, but it takes a certain presence of mind I wasn’t prepared to summon in just checking my Instagram feed.

Lucid Dreamer, Graphite on paper, Kate Wolfgang Savage, 2015

Lucid Dreamer, Graphite on paper, Kate Wolfgang Savage, 2015

And I feel more strongly about this series than I do about those finished and displayed immediately after I’ve posed for them. Maybe it’s my inability to see the progression of the drawing; often I watch it evolve, whereas I don’t think I even saw the photos Savage took that day. Or maybe it’s just me. Is this drawing as powerful or intriguing if you’re not staring at your own face, wondering what’s changed, if you’ll ever look that tranquil again, or if you ever did?

Nora ArmstrongComment