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Mall Galleries, London, 26 July 2021

1 Aug 2021

Hesketh Hubbard Art Society has booked me to life model at Mall Galleries every few months for over half a decade. It was among the last groups that I’d worked with before the first coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, and one of very few with which I’d worked in person during the UK’s brief reopening before its second lockdown.

Whether I’m booked for a portrait pose, one long pose or a short pose format, I always look forward to being present in this setting, mingling with the multitude of characterful artists and being an inspiration for so much strong and idiosyncratic creativity. Even in our happy places, however, not every day can be the best day.

On this occasion I’d been booked for the long-pose slot. It would be my first time back on this format in nearly three and a half years. Where did the time go? As ever, I gave careful thought to a pose I would be required to hold for two periods of 1-hour each. It would be a pose I hadn’t previously used here; angular, but sustainable without pain.

Upon arrival, I changed into my dressing gown, practised the pose I had in mind, and arranged various cushions to provide maximum support at pressure points that might be most vulnerable. I draped my own white sheet over the lot and with a minute to go till 6pm, disrobed and got into position. That’s when things began to go wrong.

I’d bent my legs beneath me, with knees forward and my right hand holding an ankle for balance. One artist didn’t like it; they wanted one foot on the floor, so as not to be “drawing half a person”. Another artist then said I should face to the left to fix the line of composition. Stupidly I complied, turning a tolerable 2 hours into 1h 45m of hurt.

When half-time was called after my first hour with no stretch break, an artist shouted: “don’t move”. Without asking for permission from me or anyone else, they walked up with a stick of charcoal and drew a thick black outline around me – on my own white sheet – with little care about brushing my legs or backside as they went.

Next, come the second half, I’d barely started getting back into pose when they were up again without so much as an ‘excuse me’; fussing about in my space, inches from my face to arrange me how they believed I was before, as though I was incapable of managing myself. As they walked away, they told me bluntly they’re “a control freak”.

It shouldn’t need explaining to anybody that these are breaches of basic courtesies in any setting, and absolutely cross the line of taboo behaviour toward nude models. I’m experienced enough to look after myself but I hate to think younger models might feel that accepting low-level indignities, discomfort or disrespect is all part of modelling.

I must stress I attach no blame to Hesketh Hubbard organisers who, due to on-going COVID-19 precautions, are unable to move about and directly supervise every pose. Needless to say they were mortified when I later shared my experiences. I have faith there will be no repeat; this was a one-off bad day with an otherwise lovely group.

My concerns may appear petty and trifling at a time when so much of life is a struggle for so many people. In this instance, however, it’s not so much what occurred as what it represents. There is an inherent vulnerability to nude modelling and once we start to normalise the crossing of lines, it creates a potential for worse to follow.

I would all ask those who attend life drawing groups anywhere to remember:

  • artists must remain a respectful distance from models while they’re working and never touch models when they’re unclothed or in pose
  • whilst artists may wish to share ideas with models for poses or modifications, each model must be allowed to decide what’s right for their own body
  • professional models provide artistic challenges for the group as a whole – artists must not treat group sessions like a private commission

Finally, a huge thank you to the organisers and countless artists of Hesketh Hubbard Art Society, who have always been so welcoming, friendly, courteous, respectful and encouraging over many years. I recommend the group to any aspiring model or artist. Rare bad days can happen anywhere. I share only so we can all be better together.

Many thanks to the two kind artists who shared their wonderful works, below.

Painting by Vanya Marinova.

From → Art

One Comment
  1. Agree is really not acceptable for artists to treat a model in this way. What seems a small change in position can massively change the pain of holding the pose. I’m glad you wrote about this – hopefully the individuals involved will read and reflect. On the other hand, with your experience I imagine you could have seen that the pose was unsustainable, but models push through the pain as always. Hope no lasting damage.

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