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Mall Galleries, London, 1 August 2022

Long pose sessions for Hesketh Hubbard Art Society at Mall Galleries have a way of turning into a test of endurance. I’ve written previously about some of the localised dynamics that must be negotiated or tolerated. Artists this evening were considerate, respectful, attentive and kind, right from the outset. The fact that it ultimately became an excruciatingly awful experience was entirely my own fault. Well, mine and a fly’s…


At the interval.


At the interval.

Having been given a long, broad, well-padded seat on which to pose, I took it in mind to pull up my legs and form a kind of side-saddle posture, left hand on left ankle, right hand resting on an edge of the seat. Ten minutes into the first hour, I began to feel an ache in my right palm that no amount of miniscule shuffling would alleviate. And most annoyingly, I was buzzed and crawled over by a housefly for the whole 60 minutes.


Artwork by John Williams.

When we resumed after a 15-minute interval, the fly abandoned me to my own pains. During the first half the artists had offered me a stretch break but, maybe because I’d declined, no further offer was made. The aches in my right hand, and now my left leg became agonising. At the end it took me several minutes to stand and even longer to walk. I think I left in a haze of low-level post-torture shock. Great pictures, though!

Arts Theatre, London, 27 July 2022

This return to Arts Theatre for City Academy came so soon after my previous visit that I found paintings of me in oil, still hanging up to dry. Those were clothed portraits whereas this would be session 3 of 5 in a Painting the Figure course. When I arrived, tutor Lawrence F Crane was busily preparing the ‘Pigeon Loft’ studio space.

Three artists joined us, all very capable mark-makers and highly receptive to the flow of theoretical and practical knowledge that Lawrence eagerly shared. We started with four 2-minute warm-up poses for sketches in charcoal. Then I got myself comfortable on a chair, angled sideways with one arm over its back; the evening’s long pose.

I sat for 45 minutes, had a break, then resumed for 35 minutes to the end. Aside from being absorbed by Lawrence’s enthusiasm, focus and clarity (not everyone has it all), most impressive was how quickly and effortlessly the artists captured my proportions, allowing them to focus primarily on exercises with oil colours. A fascinating session.

Garrett Centre, London, 22 July 2022

This was another post-pandemic embrace of an old familiarity in a new-normal guise. The economic and psychological jolt of having to survive both a deadly virus and two years of restrictions has seen many life drawing groups emerge with renewed vigour, fresh focus and fine tuning. So it seems with Adrian Dutton’s groups.

The last of my 23 previous bookings at the Garrett Centre had been February 2020. Twenty-nine months on, I sense a new energy. Shifts in arrangements are subtle, but enthusiasm for the practice amongst all in attendance felt palpably greater; or maybe it was just me. Whatever the case, it was nice. We began with three 5-minute poses.

Friday evenings had always been long-pose sessions. Now rather than a single pose of an hour-and-a-half, the format has two 45-minute poses either side of a break. For the first of these I stood with an open stride, left fingers on left shoulder, a twist to my torso, and eyes directed to my claw-like slightly-outstretched right hand.

With socialising, hot food, teas, biscuits and sweets in abundance during the interval, it was hardly a surprise we overran. Nonetheless, a few artists appeared impatient to resume so I took the initiative and started the final pose unbidden, sitting up the floor. After 35-minutes, at 9pm we were done. Good times are back in Bethnal Green.

London Naked Bike Ride 2022 – Back in the Pack

The eighteenth London World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) was to be my twelfth. I had started the last seven from Trinity Square Gardens at Tower Hill, even volunteering to lead the pack as an official WNBR London marshal for the last four. Now I needed to reboot my love of the ride, have a fresh start, and reimmerse with the masses.

World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR)

WNBR is a worldwide campaign that demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists and protests against car culture. Its linked objectives are to:

  1. protest against the global dependency on oil
  2. curb car culture
  3. obtain real rights for cyclists
  4. demonstrate the vulnerability of cyclists on city streets
  5. celebrate body freedom

As per last year, the ride had eight different start points. I opted the one farthest from the centre. At 11:35am, Saturday 11 June, I wheeled my bike off a Southeastern train at West Wickham station. Still clothed (at least for the time being) I cycled southwest down towards Addington, to number 233 Shirley Church Road; the Croydon start.


11:44am on Wickham Road: a new beginning

When I entered the vast secluded grounds, I found naked people in various stages of preparedness. Some were body painted, one was a work in progress, others awaited their turn. And me? I found a private corner of garden, undressed, opened my tube of Kryolan liquid brightness, and made myself… well… more noticeable.

Addington to Croydon centre

A few minutes past 1pm, after a pep talk from our ride leader, we set off. I reckon our group numbered just twenty-five, so at this stage it felt more like a small regional ride than a London epic. We began semi-rural: Shirley Church Road, Upper Shirley Road and Shirley Road, then across the Croydon tram tracks on Addiscombe Road.


1:04pm on Shirley Church Road: off we go!


1:14pm on Shirley Church Road: to Upper Shirley Road


1:24pm on Addiscombe Road: crossing the tram tracks

To avoid accidents, our route was designed to stay away from tram lines as much as possible; Addiscombe Road was one of only two encounters. We continued south on Chepstow Road, west on Fairfield Road and Barclay Road, back south on Park Lane and St Peter’s Road, west on Aberdeen Road, and (ironically) north on South End.


1:28pm on Chepstow Road: Fairfield Road ahead


1:34pm on St Peter’s Road: right turn to Aberdeen Road


1:37pm on South End: north start

Croydon to Streatham

South End was the beginning of our long ride north, not only into central Croydon but also pretty much all the way to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. We passed seamlessly onto High Street then, just before it became pedestrianised, headed right onto Katherine Street. A left at Park Lane (again) took us to our second and final crossing of the tram lines.


1:40pm on High Street: through central Croydon


1:43pm on Park Lane: oh, did I mention? I’m silver!

Leaving Croydon behind us, we embarked on a naked tour of south London suburbs, starting with Thornton Heath, Norbury and Streatham. In bright sunshine and good cheer, we made our way along Wellesley Road, St James’s Road, Hogarth Crescent, Whitehorse Road, High Street (Thornton Heath), Parchmore Road and Green Lane.


2:00pm on High Street: at Thornton Heath clock tower


2:08pm on Green Lane: residential interlude

From Green Lane we turned right on the A23 – Streatham High Road, which became Streatham Hill. The lead riders and support riders were doing an absolutely excellent job keeping us all together and threading us safely through the major junctions. More than anyone, they deserved our rest-stop when it came, at Christchurch Road.


2:25pm on Streatham High Road: into Streatham central


2:40pm on Christchurch Road: silver smile

Tulse Hill to Vauxhall

Our break lasted little more than 5 minutes. but after an hour and a half in the saddle, it was much appreciated. When we resumed, Hardel Rise led us onto Tulse Hill, and Norwood Road took us in to Herne Hill. On Dulwich Road, I waved and whistled The Prince Regent pub, where I’ve life modelled for SketchPad Drawing since 2015.


2:52pm on Dulwich Road: The Prince Regent

Next we took to Brixton: Brixton Water Lane, Effra Road, St Matthew’s Road, Brixton Hill and Brixton Road. Cheering, waving, tooting car horns, cries of astonishment and occasional covered eyes or muttered disapproval followed us everywhere. We cycled under the ‘Stay in Peace‘ painted railway bridge, then went left into Stockwell Road.


3:02pm on Brixton Road: Stay in Peace


3:04pm on Stockwell Road: the O2 Academy Brixton

Stockwell and Vauxhall were our last south London districts before the Thames. We passed through on quieter roads: Clapham Road, South Lambeth Road, Parry Street and Wandsworth Road. After two and a quarter hours’ naked bike riding, the Croydon crew finally reached the river… at MI6, which had probably monitored us all the way.


3:16pm on South Lambeth Road: into Vauxhall


3:18pm on Wandsworth Road: at spook central

We crossed the river via Vauxhall Bridge. At the north end of the bridge, while waiting for red traffic lights to change I glanced left and was astounded to see a line of naked bike riders waiting to merge with us. I guess they started at Kew Bridge and Clapham Junction. Was this a coincidence or brilliant coordination? Let’s say the latter.


3:22pm on Vauxhall Bridge: eyes left for more naked riders

Millbank to Forum Magnum Square

After cycling more 25km as a small posse of just 25 nude bodies, we suddenly found ourselves absorbed into a much larger group. Now, truly, I was ‘back in the pack’. We headed north on Millbank, passing Tate Britain, but only as far as the next crossing; Lambeth Bridge took us back south. We’d tasted just 10 minutes of north London.


3:27pm on Millbank: me and Tate Britain


3:32pm on Millbank: south so soon on Lambeth Bridge

We exited left on Lambeth Palace Road then continued to where Westminster Bridge Road curves south around the Park Plaza Hotel. Here for the first time I found myself on highways familiar from participation in bygone London rides. Addington Street and York Road took us to Forum Magnum Square; already an ocean of flesh and bikes.


3:38pm on Lambeth Palace Road: now we are many…


3:44pm at Forum Magnum Square: …and now we are huge

Here the splinter groups from all eight start points would gather before proceeding as one. It was also a chance to suspend my anonymity in the herd and catch up with old friends. Marshals tend to gather at the north end of the square, so I threaded my way yonder and duly found Cy Wol and Natansky, who’d marshalled from Tower Hill.


3:46pm at Forum Magnum Square: hunting for friends… – © Notts Naturist


3:51pm at Forum Magnum Square: …caught by Cy Wol… – © WNBR London


3:53pm at Forum Magnum Square: …selfied with Natansky – © Natansky

Waterloo

After about fifteen minutes’ rest at Forum Magnum Square, during which time the last start group arrived (Regents Park, I believe, having needed an unexpected detour for roadworks), it was time to get back on the saddle. Despite having quit as a marshal, I still couldn’t resist booming out that it was time to get moving again. Always on duty.


3:56pm on Belvedere Road: leaving the square


4:02pm on Concert Hall Approach: WNBR London legend, Cy Wol


4:04pm on Concert Hall Approach: WNBR London legend, Natansky

We exited by the usual means of Belvedere Road and Concert Hall Approach. I didn’t know at the time but the passage from Forum Magnum Square to Lincoln’s Inn Fields was the only section of the entire route that would be a repeat of my previous London rides. Crossing Waterloo Bridge, we passed dozens of ride-savvy photographers.


4:06pm on Waterloo Bridge: panoramic photo – © Michael G Spafford


4:08pm on Waterloo Bridge: group photo – © Ian Press


4:09pm on Waterloo Bridge: super close-up – © Stuart-Lee

Aldwych to Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Roads may have been familiar but not all the sights were. For example, the Christian Orthodox priest at Aldwych denouncing everyone as shameful, or the naked guy who had a dog in his backpack. We continued: Lancaster Place, Strand, Aldwych, Strand, Fleet Street, Chancery Lane, Carey Street and Serle Street, to Lincoln’s Inn Fields.


4:13pm on Aldwych: hey, a dog in a bag!


4:15pm on Strand: clouds over the Royal Courts of Justice


4:20pm on Lincoln’s Inn Fields: Inn we go

I arrived at our designated corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields with Cy, but immediately lost sight of him. During the next half-hour I found no other familiar faces but was greeted by people who recognised me from past rides, or my life modelling, or even this blog! Here was downtime. While some danced, I just wandered, sat on a wall, snacked.


4:34pm at Lincoln’s Inn Fields: can you see me? – © Ðariusz


4:36pm at Lincoln’s Inn Fields: a view from a wall


4:38pm at Lincoln’s Inn Fields: on my perch – © a_rider

Trafalgar

At 4:47pm, we began the final leg of the ride. Our destination was Wellington Arch as per previous years but our route there would be new – Covent Garden is always best avoided and The Mall had been closed since the Platinum Jubilee. From Newman’s Row and Lincoln’s Inn Fields we exited via Sardinia Street, turning left on Kingsway.


4:51pm on Kingsway: Bush House ahead


4:53pm on Strand: flags for QEII’s Platinum Jubilee


4:56pm on Strand: by Charing Cross Station

At the end of Kingsway we turned right onto Aldwych (no denouncing priest this time) and then Strand. Here, we made painstaking progress through traffic and traffic lights to the last red lights before Trafalgar Square. Somehow I’d drifted to the front, yet as the riders ahead disappeared from view, I realised I had no idea where to go next…


4:57pm on Trafalgar Square: near the front of a group… – © Ian Hollaway


4:58pm on Trafalgar Square: …and then suddenly I’m leading – © Ian Hollaway

Wild West

This was a genuine problem. I took a punt at leading us up Cockspur Street and then to Pall Mall, but it was anyone’s guess from there. No riders nearby had a clue either, so there was only one option: I dashed back down Pall Mall to find a marshal. Luckily marshal Joe wasn’t too far distant. I explained the situation and he scooted up front.


5:01pm on Pall Mall: about-face in search of a marshal – © Photographic Detail

It makes a huge difference when the person leading the way actually knows the right route. Certainly I never would have guessed to turn: right at St James’s Street, left at Piccadilly, right at Dover Street, left at Hay Hill, right and left around Berkeley Square into Fitzmaurice Place, right at Curzon Street, bursting out gloriously on Park Lane.


5:06pm on Pall Mall: back on track at St James’s Palace


5:10pm on Dover Street: a detour from Piccadilly


5:15pm on Curzon Street: a Piccadilly parallel


5:17pm on Park Lane: nearly there!

Wellington Arch

Park Lane led to Piccadilly and Duke of Wellington Place, at last. From Addington I’d cycled 35km to: Croydon, Thornton Heath, Norbury, Streatham, Tulse Hill, Herne Hill, Brixton, Stockwell, Vauxhall, Millbank, Lambeth, Waterloo, Strand, Aldwych, Charing Cross, St James’s, Mayfair… a whopping 4 hours 20 minutes, for this ultimate goal.


5:19pm on Duke of Wellington Place: end’s in sight


5:20pm at Wellington Arch: crossing the finish line – © Boutique_Studio

Ride organisation and marshalling from the Croydon start had been truly exceptional. We enjoyed warm sunshine all the way, got an overwhelmingly positive reaction from passers-by – even motorists – and each convergence with other groups was spot-on. For me, barring a brief disengagement at Trafalgar Square, it was a superb WNBR.


5:24pm at Wellington Arch: packing away – © Hedyelyakim

I didn’t stick around long at the end – I didn’t fancy the afterparty and I certainly didn’t have enough energy to join the hardcore group riding back to Croydon. Instead I was happy to catch-up with friends again – Chas, Nat, et al – and say farewell for another year. Thanks, London; thanks, WNBR team. You didn’t miss this old ex-marshal. 🙂

Our route from Addington to Wellington Arch

More on WNBR London 2022

Bygone blogs

Arts Theatre, London, 15 July 2022

After my Monday long-time-no-see booking with Adrian Dutton (first since February 2020), this Friday job rolled away the years even further. For the first time since June 2018, I was back with City Academy at Arts Theatre. Arriving early, I applied myself to navigating the route from the side entrance via labyrinthine staircases and multiple security doors, up to the top-floor ‘Pigeon Loft’. I swear it’s more complicated now.

The course was portrait painting, with tutor Jenny Boat. Jenny greeted me cheerfully and we chatted about art till the students joined us: three in time for our 6:45pm start, and a fourth very soon after. For warm-ups, they were asked to create three 1-minute ‘negative space’ drawings on one sheet of paper – impressive results all round – then three separate 5-minute drawings with an emphasis on observation.

After the 5-minute poses, I settled down for the main pose of this session: roughly an hour and a half sitting on a simple but comfortable-enough chair, staring at nothing in particular. It must have been comfortable-enough because I only needed one stretch. Meanwhile the students – and Jenny – toiled at capturing my likeness in oils; a tough ask. But it went well. And somehow I avoided the portrait curse of nodding off. 🙂

St Peter de Beauvoir Town, Hackney, London

The passage of time brought me to an old friend at a new venue. It had been 9 years and 10 days since I first modelled for one of Adrian Dutton’s groups. Since then we had worked together 65 times in 10 different settings until a pandemic came between us. We reconnected here, at St Peter de Beauvoir Town; session 66, setting 11.


Artwork by Peter Dobbin.


Artwork by Peter Dobbin.


Artwork by Peter Dobbin.

The start was considerably more energetic than I expected. After a 5-minute opening pose, we launched immediately into no fewer than fifteen 1-minute poses. Fifteen! I’d anticipated some quickfire work but nothing on this scale. I pivoted, stretched, folded, reached, kneeled, arched, turned, turned and turned again, loving every minute.


Artwork by Peter Dobbin.

Next I had to stay still for fully 10 minutes. It felt like an incomprehensible proposition, but I lucky-dipped my mind for a routine stance to suit the pose length. After standing with hands over and under my face, I ended the first half seated on the floor with one arm resting across a raised knee for 25 minutes.


Artwork by Peter Dobbin.

A break for quarter of an hour gave time to enjoy a mug of tea (slopping boiling water on my feet) plus pita bread, crisps, a custard cream and some lovely conversations. I resumed with a 15-minute pose back upon the floor with arms angled in a way that at first felt interesting, but became increasingly uncomfortable.


Artwork by Peter Dobbin.

And then the final pose, a 25-minute throwback: wide stance, one arm draped across the top of my head, the other around my back. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight was an example of the latter. After ten minutes the upper arm started to tingle, by twenty it was dead, and at twenty-four and forty seconds it slipped off…


Artwork by Peter Dobbin.

It’s hard, balancing a dead weight upon your head when the rest of your body cannot move; especially when that weight is one your own limbs. There were gasps as it fell, but these segued to applause as Adrian called the session’s natural 9pm finish. I had pushed myself a tad more was than necessary. Why? Old times’ sake, I guess.

The Star by Hackney Downs, 28 June 2022

Informal life drawing groups often lose artists on early summer evenings that promise long light warm hours, without fear of rain. Upstairs at The Star by Hackney Downs, uncovered windows were wide open bringing a bright celebratory seasonal freshness to Drawing the Star, yet still – alas – numbers dipped.

Even in reduced circumstances, however, the atmosphere here is always upbeat and engaging. Organiser Catherine Hall sets the tone; a reliable playlist adds richness to proceedings, and short poses keep us fizzing along: 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, then three of 1-minute and three of 30-seconds.

After high-energy freewheeling through six poses in fewer than five minutes, the next pose of 10 minutes feels like a long languid hiatus within which to recompose. It’s the relieving semicolon that draws breath after a rat-a-tat burst of commas. I sat on a low stool and made a shape way too angular for comfort but, hey, it’s the job.

I got back up on my feet for one more 10-minute pose before our break. Legs loosely crossed, right forearm vertical to chest, right hand cradling chin, left forearm on head, left hand cupping right ear, left fingertips touching right fingertips… I borrowed heavily from the extraordinary self-portrait works of Egon Schiele. I borrow often.

Drinks were replenished during the interval. As we resumed for our final half-an-hour, Catherine called for a show of hands to decide pose times: 10/10/10, 15/15, 10/20 or 30. Part-democracy, part-diplomacy found in favour of 10/20 but Catherine asked me to begin with the 20 minute pose for the benefit of those returning late from the bar.

I’d both heard it said and seen for myself that some artists struggled to fit my full form on their page when I reached maximum height. Thus out of compassion for them and myself, I decided on floor work for the 20-minute pose and also the 10-minute variant that took us to the end. Still working those angles, though.

When all was done, artworks were spread around the floor for the general admiration of everyone present. After tidying the room, a handful of us retired to the beer garden for post-art banter. This is such a lovely group on so many levels. Whether new faces or old friends, everybody leaves with a smile on their face. Not least, me. 🙂

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