For the past few years I’ve been desirous. Desirous for flesh.
During the summer before entering university I attended a summer figure drawing workshop at my university. It was weeklong and each day we drew a model, clothed in a leotard. The whole idea of life class was foreign to me. Growing up in the conservative south, I had never heard of artists standing around drawing someone in the nude. No, it would have been a “naked person”. It was during my sophomore year that a new professor decided that the school should have life classes. It was 1988. A dry county. Bible belt.
And even those new classes were only optional evening classes. It wasn’t mandatory for students to look at the human body.
I transferred the following year during winter break and walked into life class at Louisiana State University. It was amazing. Amazing. Ike was our primary model, a bearded guy from New Orleans. Then there were others. And it was every semester one class after the other until it all climaxed with a figure painting class. And then when I graduated the thing that every artist should do throughout his life ended.
China is not the place to come to if you want to draw nudes. It’s not that there aren’t models, there are. But they’re expensive. You might pay 80 American dollars for 3 hours. You could split the cost with a small group, but groups of people who want to draw models are hard to come by. I’ve heard that in Shanghai expat teachers have gotten together to hold life classes, but that’s Shanghai, a place different altogether from inland China. And then there are the types of models you find. They’re either un-model-like or VERY model like, as in skinny/sexy model like, usually posers for photography clubs who put them next to a steam in an out of sight rural area. Think simulatneous shutters. Think sideline photographers with big lenses all pointed at the same thing, all getting the same thing. And all middle aged men.
But these models aren’t art models. They don’t know the poses, the stances, how to sit on a stool, how to hold a staff, how to look graceful or dignified. And even if they can do that, they aren’t requested to because local artists don’t know to have them do this. I remember going to a graduate students’ studio to draw alongside students and there was a model in a coat and bluejeans sitting straight forward legs just plopped there. How do you draw that? So I drew the students who were drawing. It’s just a different mentality.
So one of the first things I did when I went home was start looking for my old figure drawings. I didn’t find the ones I was looking for. I think they’re there up in the rafters in the garage, but the wasps kept me at bay. The stack I did find was enough. Drawings of Ike, gesture drawings, those quick 3 minute drawings of a model who is just turning, adjusting an arm or a leg, changing a stance. The fluidity, the subtlety, the nuance, the rythem, the beauty. And then the memeories of those LSU studios with large protruding windows and high ceilings came back, the sounds of 15 charcoal sticks scratching across the paper surface in an otherwise silent room and the mystery of what the person next to you is doing on their paper while you get caught up in your own concentrated zone. That creativity that one feels in a life class is like no other and for what it’s worth I was able to relive it a bit in those old drawings and paintings that I dug out.
Maybe I should start a life class coop. Hmmm.