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The Conservatoire, Blackheath, 22 November 2021

26 Nov 2021

Tutor Victoria Rance wanted me dead, and not just because I arrived for her class at The Conservatoire in Blackheath fifteen minutes late (more of which in due course). No. By the time I burst breathlessly through the doorway into the magnificent drawing studio she had already begun circulating historical reference works of dead bodies as a foretaste of the long pose she had in mind for me…

Andrea Mantegna, ‘Lamentation over the dead Christ’ (ca.1480-1490)

Hans Holbein the Younger, ‘The body of the dead Christ in the tomb’ (1520-1522)

Ron Mueck, ‘Dead Dad’ (1996)

I always take great pains to be punctual so something fairly dramatic has to occur for me not to arrive in good time. In a decade of modelling it’s happened only twice; both occasions arising from catastrophic rail problems. This evening also: a train failure at Blackheath station meant the whole line was kaput. And I’d planned to be 20 minutes early! Oh well. We still had time for warm-ups: three 1-minute poses, one 5-minute.

In preparation for the long pose we cleared a space in the middle of the studio, swept the floor, put down three or four layers of foam, added a cushion support for my head, then covered the whole lot with my own white sheet. And there I lay down naked. The pose seemed so simple I felt I should at least attempt to add something, so I crossed my ankles. Tsk tsk. I was told to uncross! I wasn’t to do, I was just to be… simple.

We started at 8:05pm and I remained in this position without a break until we finished at 9:55pm. After all, what could I do in a break that was more relaxing? OK, come the last half-hour the insides of my elbows ached from being held straight for so long, but it was nothing really. Curiously, sometimes I’ll grumble if I have a run of sessions with painful long poses, yet now I felt guilty for having an easy one. It’s a work ethic thing.

When life modelling I have a notion of how I present to artists, but I cannot truly know. What I imagine to be extraordinary might actually appear rather mediocre when seen. Similarly a simple pose can offer all manner of unforeseen challenges and inspiration. The artists this evening had tackled measuring, perspective, foreshortening, light and shade, proportion… and together I felt we’d done fair justice to the reference works.

Time flies. Not only in the hallucinatory mindfulness of 2-hours as a naked corpse but also between occurrences; this was not the first time I’d died for Victoria. My previous lying-in-state at The Conservatoire had been nearly four years ago, back in February 2018. It’s taken maybe that long for me to realise the subtlety and power of this pose, particularly for a slightly skeletal figure: the late Steve Ritter. I should die more often!

From → Art

One Comment
  1. boykog permalink

    This is to confirm the power we posess, the reincarnation in a moment of a short burst of inspiration, well for just an hour or so, but still. compared with the eternity remarkably influential.
    I’d have bring a bunch of flowers and play Mozatrs Requiem,
    Lacrimosa dies illa
    Qua resurget ex favilla
    Judicandus homo reus
    Lacrimosa dies illa…

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