Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Muse, Me

When I was younger, I used myself as a model and noone else. In the last few years, others have begun to populate my work.
I am looking for a model now. I find myself studying each person I meet – especially if they're Asian or African – assessing the angularity of their faces and the proportions of their bodies (I don't really care about height or weight). I have an aversion to conventional. 'white bread' prettiness: I like faces with flaws. More than anything, I look for an attitude. I'm drawn most to women who are strong, smart, curious, experimental, and yes, sexual, but who are not yet fully 'resolved'. Painting someone is a process of self-exploration and many of my most successeful sitters have used their time with me in the studio as an opportunity to explore themselves. The best results happen when the assumptions of both subject and artist are tested.
Needles to say, that can be too much for most people.
Sometimes, I approach women on the street or in caf├ęs or bars. Sometimes I put up a poster. Mostly, I get emails from people who have seen my work. I'm always explicit about what I might expect of them. I don't ever use the word 'fun'. I ask a lot of questions. If I like the answers, I'll organise a face-to-face, usually somewhere other than my studio. I take a few snapshots, I write copious notes. If I think someone has what I'm looking for – and they're game (many lose their nerve very quickly ) – I ask them to visit my studio.
Potential sitters pose clothed and naked for me. I photograph them with both digital and Polaroid cameras and make quick sketches. I'm interested in the different ways people bare themselves, so I photograph them as they undress. I used to be hesitant about touching their bodies, but these days, I impose myself without hesitation – to reposition a limb, twist a torso, or tilt a head. Physical contact connects me to the would-be sitter, closing the cautious distance that new subjects often cling to for a sense of security. It also agitates any suppressed feelings the woman might have about being objectified. Sometimes, it can also create a sexual tension.
The more intense the experience, the better the result. By the end of a shoot, most are exhausted. Then I make lunch and we talk about the experience – it's a conversation that sometimes continues by phone or email for a couple of days afterwards. This is also part of their contribution to the work, and in many ways, its even more intimate than the actual posing.
Sometimes a session fails. Someone who might have been bold and eager when we first met becomes suddenly nervous and rigid, as if the reality of the moment is more than they can handle. Some blanche when they see my drawing table littered with drawings of body parts or graphic Polaroids of other models. Some find the process too discomforting and want to stop. A few misinterpret my intentions and assume that we're going to fuck – or worse, think it's an opportunity for platonic female bonding, of sharing secrets and giggling. Many back out before they even get to the studio.
Occasionally, I come across women who make the whole thing a breeze.
Several years ago, I had a studio close to the infamous Walking Street, in Pattaya, Thailand. Of all the women I have painted, the local bar girls (and transexuals) were the most curious about how I went about it. They asked smart questions, looked through my work and offered their opinions as they flicked through the many art books I had lying around. A handful passed by several times a week, sometimes late at night, to cook spicey dishes, talk, and to pose. None ever asked for payment.
A young Korean woman who agreed to model for me at my beachside studio in Sydney moved (and talked) like a laid-back Californian surfer. Deeply tanned, with dyed blonde hair, she'd gaze longingly at the waves just outside the studio's floor-to-ceiling windows as she contorted her petite muscled body for me. In the pictures, it came across as a sexy languour. At the same studio, a boney, bird-featured, saxophone-playing Japanese who posed several times (albeit with cooperative but utterly vacant detachment) somehow became, for a time, the third point in an odd sexual triangle with my boyfriend and me.
Like male artists in the past, I've had my share of tangled relationships with the females who have posed for me. The process of photographing, drawing or painting someone is intimate and revelatory. It can also be unnerving (and yes, seductive) for the subject. My focus flicks without warning between them to the 'object' I am making. I imagine that for the other person it might be like being adored one moment, ignored the next. It can forge a bond – but just as easily fester with resentment. At its most successful, it can be a liberating experience for the subject: they get to see themselves through the eyes of someone else, and often, discover more (not less) than they had expected.
What I want out of it is much simpler: I want to make good art.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I modeled for years, worked with the classes who were doing figure drawing/painting and with the classes of creepy guys taking 'figure photography'. I admired the artwork, how each artist saw something different in my body up there on the block, in one I'd have fairy wings, in another I'd have huge comic book eyes. The human body is beautiful, no matter the age or shape, and if you can pull from that figure the inspiration you need to create something, then wow, go for it.