Two Spring Things

It's May, and the weather slowly improves. Artistically, at least, there are a couple of things to bring us through until the elusive summer. As always, the new show at PhoPa should be great. A colored (!) print (!!) show, Ripple Effect showcases work from Gardiner, Maine's Circling the Square, a delightfully collaborative print studio.

 

In less repetitive news, everyone's favorite quirky art boutique will be showing work by one of my coworkers, Dorson Plourde. Plourde is an incredible elementary art educator in South Portland currently satisfying every one of my artistic preferences working on outdoor sculpture with his students. His whimsical series Big will feature at Pinecone and Chickadee on First Friday this month.

 

The first of Plourde's work I saw was his hand-painted blue/gray series. I asked him if he was insane. "Sometimes," he answered.

Advertising for the show with posters printed by Pinecone and Chickadee's own Kris Johnsen

The Big series that will be at Pinecone and Chickadee is arguably less compulsive and just as compelling. I laughed when I first saw the large lady bopping around Plourde's website, riding avocados and expelling rainbows. There's more than amusing illustration to the work, however. Big has an underlying discomposure hinging on the placement of the figure. She's in space, on a background, riding vegetables and never solidly on the ground. It's not difficult to relate this apathetic buoyancy to the predicament of the contemporary 20-something. Counteracting this transience is Plourde's commitment to his character. He prints his own labels, packaging and artwork, manufacturing tattoos and curvaceous self-designed dolls. Perhaps such dedication is his way of counteracting the aimlessness of a Great Recession post-grad. There does seem to be a level of calm to the series, speaking to the possibility that at least one of us may have found a way to combat the transience of our generation.

Affected criticism aside, get to Pinecone and Chickadee May 1st to enjoy some superficial drollery or wallow in quarter-life despondency; your choice!

Two Things.

In my defense, the fact that I haven't written anything since November blew me away. I knew it had been a while, but I guess I'd forgotten that December rarely amounts to anything more than overexcited holiday preparation set to outdated indie covers of Christmas songs. Regardless, I want to get into the year by calling attention to two upcoming, short-lived gallery shows. Charles Cramer's contribution to the 2013 show

One will take place in Kennebunkport at F8 Gallery on Spring Street. I work for a lovely drawing group in Kennebunkport that hosts a large variety of personalities and artistic style. Every Valentine's Day weekend one of the attendants, Brad Maushart, hosts a show at his gallery. I've modeled there before and can attest to it being the perfect space to spend a cold night, especially with the wood fire blazing. The show features nudes painted or drawn at the drawing group, and it's great to see the different ways in which one subject matter can be so variably represented.

A little further up the coast, it's time for 10x10 again, at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland. I wrote a piece on this exciting two-day exhibit last year, and all the artists included will be showing again, with the exception of Russell Whitten, who's space will be adopted by a newcomer. I'm especially excited to see the work of the artists who were newcomers last year, and see how their art has changed.

I'm especially interested to see the work of Thomas Ryan. This is from his Floodwater series.

One of the perks of an annual show with consistent participants is the opportunity to see artists' work over a period of time and observe its evolution. Including younger artists in more formative stages of development makes this benefit more apparent.

I'm sure both of these shows will be excellent, and I would be amiss if I didn't mention the opening of Pho Pa Gallery's new show, Inside/Out. The show is currently on view, but the opening reception will take place during the First Friday festivities on February 6th. Most of the shows in Pho Pa since I became aware of this small cozy gallery have been black and white, and the compelling colors of this new show are sure to highlight the gallery's versatility.

10x10 will run February 20, 5-8 and February 21, 10-3 at June Fitzpatrick Gallery on Congress Street in Portland,

Inside/Out runs through March 7 at Pho Pa Gallery on Washington Ave in Portland,

Information on the show at F8 Gallery is forthcoming!

 

 

Spatial Reasonings

IMG_0275

Working from my apartment was an interesting investigation of how different spaces affect the art made in them. I’ve noticed this for a while, especially after spending time with Sarah’s work. She does a lot of exploration into the nature of a space and its meaning to the individual. My own relation to spaces is usually filtered through the experience of modeling in them. I work in many different places, and each of them has different strengths and weaknesses. MECA, for example, has little to offer to models in terms of comfort and props, but the rooms are very spacious. This lends itself to a really exciting variety of artistic endeavors. I’ve sat for a portrait for seven hours, using my computer case for comfort, but I’ve also done continuous movement poses surrounded by students drawing on newsprint laid out on the floor.

IMG_0340

I recently modeled at a gallery in Kennebunkport, a small space with a rope and a few artworks hanging from the ceiling. It was exciting to work around the objects in the room and to use the rope to shift my weight for various poses. Spaces definitely lend themselves to completely different exercises and poses. Short poses can be more creative in unconventional spaces, yet Joshua’s academic style works best where there’s room for lines of easels, and highly controlled lighting. I found my apartment wasn’t ideal for academic figure drawing; a perfectly rendered figure before a stark white background would be extremely difficult, and arguably a waste of the space on hand. Fringed lamps, a salmon tinted chaise and potted plants fill the room, clamoring to be drawn. Sarah collects all sorts of trinkets (mostly elephants), and I’ve started accumulating objects as well. A little cramped for large figure groups, our apartment’s capacity for still life and scenery is unparalleled.

With not much to do while modeling but ponder, I have a fascinating time seeing how spaces influence the type and style of art being made there. Beyond the logistics of what can be accomplished in a space, they lend their a distinct energy to the work being produced. I know the way a space feels affects the poses I take, but I think it influences the palettes and the materials artists choose to apply. Bars are scribbled pen drawings in a notebook. Our apartment is intimate inkings of elephant sculptures, flowered wallpaper and bright paint collage, with the occasional nude melting into the background.

Working from Home

If the men whose white t-shirts and long ponytails wrested with the autumn breeze glanced over from their perch overlooking the city, they got an eyeful. We hadn't noticed when we started, but the construction that spent months plaguing one busy street had now snuck around the corner, nestled behind the large victorian's newly erected wraparound porch. The neck of a cherry picker craned over the roof of the mansion, providing a spectacular view into the windows of a humble teal apartment house next door. She ended up throwing this away - it's entirely about the process

I noticed this when I turned for the next pose so the girls could draw my back and saw detailed faces of the two construction workers I'd walked by daily for the past few months. At the moment they focused intently on the roofing of the repurposed mansion, but I had no idea when they were going to turn, nor if the roof of my dormers afforded me any privacy. I counted calmly to sixty and back down again, then sank onto the coffee table I'd been standing on with my hands over my face, explaining what I could see through my middle and index fingers. The three ladies that had arrived with various baked goods and coffee to draw peeked out the window and the room filled with laughter as I defiantly settled into another two minute pose.

I'd been offering up my living room as a potential drawing space for a while now, but this was the first time it came to fruition. Three of my coworkers from Muse were aching to draw, so we got together before a session. I had expected to feel extremely comfortable, it being my own home, but even before we realized I was giving a show to the hard laborers of the City of Portland I felt a little strange. I was slightly unsure in poses, and tentative in navigating how much I should be chatting while posing.

I realized in evaluating the placement of coffee table and chairs beforehand how much thought goes into a space that lends itself to figure drawing. The strongest light source in my living room, determining my position directly in front of the window, was the sun pouring in. Within twenty minutes of me settling into a longer pose the dramatic raking glow across my arms had moved, leaving my form in shadow. The shaded lamps in the room lacked the strength for interesting lighting.

Stress sketches from the day my father broke his hip.

However, the session turned out to be a success anyway. One colleague summed it up with: "I needed to get that out." It's easy to forget, when modeling all the time, what it's like to have sixty seconds to capture the any of the many complexities of a human figure. Reminded of me how I loved life drawing when I was first learning to draw, I began to consider how much I benefit from every time I sit down to draw. I often pull out a sketchbook when I'm stressed or upset, ready to disappear into rushed sketches of fellow beer/coffee drinkers. The results, often decidedly mediocre, aren't overly important. There's a zen to the effort of taking down that much information in a limited period of time related to meditation. Amanda's comment reminded me how important drawing is to me, not as a means to any end besides some amount of inner calm.

The Classics

One of the best things about modeling is the variety of artistic endeavors I get to witness. MECA and USM give me exposure to wackier ways of drawing, and I recently worked a lot with a classical Atelier trained artist, Joshua Langstaff. I posed for a class he taught at an art school called Sanctuary Arts in Elliot, Maine. It was called "The Classical Figure," and involved one pose for the entirety of the ten-week session. The length of this pose was completely different from anything I'd done before and led me to ponder different artistic approaches. Joshua is a pretty dedicated Atelier purist, a product of the current resurgence of realism. He was trained, and hopes to train others, in the same fashion as classic academy artists throughout the centuries. As someone who attaches a good amount of importance to tradition, I have a lot of affection for this kind of artistic training. It is a way for an artist to truly connect to the art of the past, and I'm impressed by the dedication of an artist who wants to start with the same level of technical skill (or at least training) as great artists who came before. They spend years drawing before being allowed to move onto paint, spending more than ten hours on drawings that will later be covered in painstaking layers of oils. A "short pose" to Joshua was three hours long.

Picasso was classically trained in Madrid. Study, 1896.

However, I find there to be a lot disdain for more abstract artwork and artists in realist circles. I sense an undercurrent of judgement for any artist that would make art without first learning to perfectly render the human form. On the other hand, I know many looser artists look down on classical painting, writing it off as unimaginative and soulless. I see where each of these criticisms originates, yet they support narrow perspectives I have no interest in perpetuating.

Sarah provided me with one way of explaining how people could land so one-sided on the issue of classical vs. avant-garde. As someone who does not identify as an artist I can't entirely understand the usefulness of art that influences the way someone decides to paint. I'm trained to reocognize similarities, but when I look at a painting in a gallery I get to look at it without needing anything from it.

Someone explain Alex Katz to me? Ada Seated, 1963

Sarah explained that she looks at art two different ways: for pleasure, or for what it does for her artistically. As someone who looks at the evolution of the artistic process I have the luxury of using all art to developing a perspective on the discipline in general. An artist once asked me if I liked Impressionist art. I was blown away anyone had the notion I might not like art that completely changed the course of artistic theory. I can't relate at all to the frustration of an artist looking at art that means nothing to their development.

My exposure to the vitriol on either side of the classical/avant-garde debate leads to my own attempt remove overzealous criticism from my own perspective. I want to take full advantage of being on the philosophical rather than the practical side of the artistic process. I've been trying to change my reaction to art that doesn't speak to me; to find out what language it's using rather than just walking away. I've started spending more time on works I don't like at first, trying to figure out what I don't like, then exploring why I dislike it. I have access to these diverse and outspoken perspectives, and I'm going to milk them for all it's worth.

 

 

10x10+4 isn't 104.

About a year ago, when I was about to move to Los Angeles, one of the drawing groups I worked for was talking a lot about "ten by ten". I had no idea what that meant at first, but managed to figure out that it was an art show that some of them were involved with in some capacity. That's  all I figured out until this year, when the buzz started again. I decided to ask and was justly rewarded. 10x10 is a annual art show that has been happening more or less every year for the past two and half decades. It features ten artists displaying ten works that are all 10in by 10in, originally for $100 each (this has changed with the times). One of the first things I saw walking into the gallery- a lithograph from Chris Benemen's Highline series.

Originally intended to include the same artists year after year, the group has changed significantly over the years, adding to depth of its history.  Many of the artists in the current roster attend (or host) the drawing group where I first heard about it. Imagine my pleasure to find this year’s 10x10 (+4) show at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery at MECA, a five minute walk from my apartment.

I trudged wetly through pouring rain under Sarah’s polka dotted umbrella to make the opening night. The show was only on for two days, allowing the artists to keep prices low and inspiring visitors to brave the storm. I arrived to a gallery full of soggy people clutching plastic cups of Trader Joes wine, so it was basically like I'd never left my apartment. The gallery was small, and the work on the walls was grouped by artist, so I was able to wander around based on what caught my eye.

An oil by Todd Bezold

The greatest strength of 10x10 was the diversity, seemingly ironic in a show with set dimensions. However, the equal size of each work provided a platform for comparison that focused the attention on the surface of the work rather than that space it contained. The variation in framing was striking, prompting reflection on the importance of framing, often overshadowed by the works themselves. For example, the calm simplicity of Todd Bezold’s ocean landscapes would have been overwhelmed and underserved by a frame; their display without lent presence to the atmospheric works. The variation of artistic mindset and strategy shone in the way the paintings informed each other; every artist's work looked truly unique yet seamlessly linked to the rest of the show. The viewer was pulled around the gallery, led by details of works that shed light on others.

An assemblage by Roz Fedeli

Michael Walek coaxed a stained quality from his gauche landscapes, which looked almost like batiking and played into the soothing folksiness of Martha Miller’s vibrant prints to the left. Pulling patterns from the borders of her work led you to the landscapes of Lindsay Hancock, simple shapes leaving brilliant colors to set the tone of the work. Her straight-lined abstractions of organic forms led you across the gallery to the stark geometry of Chris Beneman's lithographs. The dull tones, long lines and intricate overlapping looked like shadow studies of the many bridges of the area. Suddenly thoughts of metal were on the mind, mottled pipes and secondhand brooches flashing from found object relief sculptures by Roz Fedeli, perched rigid and distinct in the ample showing of paintings.

Next to the curvy metals  lay a series of watercolors by Pat Hardy showing broken ceramics on white cloth, the sharp edges of the watercolor and the smooth sides of the pipes a beautiful contradiction. The intersection of sculpture and painting was completed by Russ Whitten’s incredibly tangible oil paintings, the palate-knife applied paint reaching off the canvas to catch the light in a way that made them into abstract reflection studies as well as moody landscapes.

The benefit of this diversity was in no way lost on the producers of the show. The +4 part of the show's name referenced a juried set of four young Portland-based artists. Many of them were connected to MECA, which is known for an avant-garde curriculum. Of course all artists seem to tend toward the classical when you only see them at drawing group, but it was refreshing to see the melding of established artistic thought and fresh new perspectives. I talked to a woman who had been to almost every show for 23 years, and thought how amazing it would be to see the development of the exhibition over that time. To see the new work in the show solidified the idea of a commitment to the diversity that made 10x10 such an enjoyable experience.

All images lifted from the 10x10 website. Hopefully a more timely post will introduce next year's show.

Model and Artist

Because of this, with Kate around I would often leave academia behind. No longer influenced by different artists I had studied, the poses were more internal. I found those sessions extremely freeing, and I could tell that modeling was more than a series of angles, line and curves, but about an energy and feeling. It was during a shorts session that I discovered “animal poses,” where I could crouch and crawl. My wrists would ache and legs fall completely asleep, but the energy in the room felt perfect.  Kate was the first to throw me in a pair of heels, which became somewhat of a tradition, and for some reason they inspired me as I collapsed my ankles or perched on top of the platforms.
I loved discovering the differences in artists work, learning how to become a positive influence on their artistic process, adapting to their varied whims and styles.

I personally had always preferred figure to still-life and landscape, but before my switch to the other side of the canvas, paper, camera, whichever, I hadn’t completely understood. If any art has to do with humanity, it would be the unavoidable intersection between model and artist that is shown in any representation of a body. In the moment shown in the drawing, painting, photograph and sculpture, the model is able to provide what the artist wants, and this collaboration, the power of the object to react and adapt, is what makes figure unique.

Just Make It Up...

...is the only advice I ever gave about modeling. Granted, it's not like everyone begged to be told how to do it, but oftentimes when someone discovered that I modeled sans clothing it led to questions. There was a time one of "my artists" (I hope no one is offended by this characterization; I doubt I'll be able to refrain from using it because it's how I've referred to the artists I posed for regularly for months) came up to me and asked how I decided on poses. I could not think of anything to say besides that I just made it up. She looked at me and asked "you really are just naturally good at this, aren't you?" I sputtered, shrugged and stumbled over my words until she interrupted me, saying "just say yes, thank you."

"Yes, thank you." Then I smiled and giggled enough to hopeful distract her from my awkwardness and get her back to thinking I was adorable. But it wasn't entirely true. The time they spent drawing when the next pose was undecided, I was running through ideas in my head. It wasn't always where would I put my foot, place my hand, but more about emoting something.

My real strategy began my first time modeling, when looked down, realized my feet were in third position, and leaned down, placing my hands on my shins. Of course, Phillipe called me out almost immediately: "Oh! Zere is a Degas very much like zat!" Of course there is, Phillipe. I'm copying it. My Bachelors in Art History was finally proving to be useful, if not quite in the way I had imagined. I really didn't develop an analytical take on it. I read a poem written from the perspective of a model once, in the catalog for the 2012 Figure Revealed show at the USM Art Gallery, I had a hard time relating to most of it. The only part I could clearly recognize to was when she mentioned feeling a cold breeze. I have little insight into what makes for a good pose, or how to turn one leg to some angle, or how looking to the side will "give a lift to my breasts." However, I did end up forming a vague strategy on how to pose.

And sometimes I can manage the twist to the body, the outstretched arms. But every time I work for a new drawing group, I will find my feet twisted and my arms stretched to my legs; a dancer caught behind the scenes. I started to think of myself as a Degas who wishes she were a Bernini, though I never limited myself to those artists. I liked to play with Gaugin while lounging on couches, sometimes going back to classicism with a Doryphoros, and flirting with the disadvantaged women of Manet. It was interesting how my modeling style seemed to mirror my perception of myself. Living a fairly mundane life in rural New Hampshire, trying to suck all the beauty out of it, while dreaming of going other places and living other lives. I could go to Costa Rica and teach children English, I could save up money and move to Tokyo for a few months, but the small-world part of me kept me exploring paths running through coniferous woods. In modeling I tended toward the unremarkable yet somewhat odd poses, trying to appear that I just stopped in whatever I was doing, frozen in time, while dreaming of dramatic, theatrical, mythical marbles.

The Shirtdress Comes Off

I am a young woman with an Art History degree who models for artists. Yes, it's nude. Yes, it changed the way I think about art. It started at age seventeen, when I took a drawing class at the University of New Hampshire. I had known that eventually we would work from nude models and had spent an excessive amount of time wondering how in the world someone could possibly stand in front of an entire room of people completely naked and it NOT be weird. When the day came we were to start with gesture drawings, drawing nothing but the "shape," the "essence" of the pose. Needless to say I was not thinking at all about how I was going to capture this essence, but more around the lines of "holy lord this girl is about to lose the towel what the hell..."

She lost the towel. I started drawing random lines on newsprint that may or may not have had anything to do with the poses this girl was taking. It took about a minute before I realized that this wasn't a naked girl. We had spent months already learning about measuring, seeing values instead of line, all the things you learn in an introductory drawing class. This person was a series of shapes and values that fit together and if I put them in the right places and made them the right size it would make a picture of a naked girl. And it wasn't weird. The entire class was in too much of a frenzy trying to get everything in before the pose was over to care; from the 30 second "essence" poses to the last five minutes of the twenty minute poses when you realize all you've drawn is a leg.

It was after this class I decided that THAT was what I wanted my college job to be. Unfortunately I chose a college so small they chose to get models from the community rather than have select students have been seen without clothes by 50% of the school population. I figured it wouldn't come up again, and enjoyed my job watching Food Network on the flat screen TV at the student bowling alley and telling visitors that no, I was not going to change it to the Cav's game.

Four years later, my intensely pregnant family friend decided to stop modeling until she had the baby. I had honestly not thought about it since my short-lived long high school love affair, but as a girl about to lose her summer internship, I offered up my inexperience to any artists who were interested. She assured me that they were mostly unassuming, older women, and that I would be perfectly comfortable. Weeks later I had given up on getting any job when I received a phone call from a man with a french accent so thick it took me about five minutes to realize he was calling about modeling. I gave some non-committal answer and immediately called Kalika to see if he was trustworthy. No answer. What could a about-to-burst pregnant woman have to do that was SO important she couldn't call me to reassure me about a job she had gotten me?!

Thus, on a late August day in Portsmouth, NH, I left the house after emailing three of my friends the exact address of where I was going, telling them that if I didn't text them by 10pm to call the cops. I got to the house, realized I was completely unprepared robe-wise, and dug through the goodwill donation boxes in the back of my car until I dug up an old shirtdress of my mother's. I went inside, was directed to the bathroom, and after changing sat around looking through books of poses, trying to memorize every one that I liked, at this point more terrified of being a bad model than of being naked.Luckily, I met Philippe a week or two later at an art opening I was working. I was working with two other interns, one a young conservative, the other fondly nicknamed "Christian Boy." Philippe introduced himself then asked me if I could give an concrete answer. I finally stumbled out with a "sure," then had to proceed to inform my coworkers of what I had just agreed to do. CB was dumbfounded, and I spent the rest of the night trying to explain how a philosophy of "why not try everything?" didn't have to apply to heroin use.

The shirtdress came off. Every single pose I had been studying for the past five minutes flew out of my head. I made it up. And I loved it.