By Toby Deveson
How did you get into life modelling?
My first step into modelling was an accident. I am a journalist and had the wonderful opportunity of building a great career in my country doing tv, radio, magazines and newspapers and covering news about arts and entertainment on all these media platforms. When I moved to UK, I couldn’t speak any English at all, and of course had to start my professional life from scratch. I did some work in customer services with the only aim to build some confidence with the language and to improve my English but I honestly was very bad at all that: I was loved by customers and hated by managers, because of my lack of efficiency with numbers and other practical, systematic things. Then I met Anna Rosa Paladino, a Venezuelan girl with my same educational and cultural background – she was also Italian Venezuelan – who was working as life model in Florence, and I realised that she was doing something that I would love to do. I was always very body conscious and I thought I was extremely shy about my own nudity, but the fist time I stood nude in front of a group of artists I felt as if I had always been an art model.
What led you to Art Model Collective?
Manko and I first meet through another multi-model project that we created with male model Andrew Crayford. We worked together creating amazing sessions with a very theatrical input but slowly the creative collaboration between the three of us stopped being fluid and positive. Manko and I then realised we had a natural mutual trust and camaraderie. Even if the original team didn’t survive we felt we should keep exploring our professional relationship in order to bring to life all the sessions that had started to form in the river of creativity born of our newly connected, creative minds.
So, the start of Art Model Collective was also the loss of our previous project. We created life from death which is probably one of the reasons why Art Model Collective is such a powerful, independent and fearless project. Manko and I have created a collective of models in order to run weekly sessions with interactive body compositions and a great plurality of models and ideas. We wanted to offer inspiration to London’s art scene and, in return we get the satisfaction of doing something worthy, beautiful and inspiring – and nothing has stopped us from doing it.
Manko is not just my lovely sister from another mister, she is also the force that keeps me believing and doing my best every day, in order to create what we can only desire and dream of. She is not just extremely beautiful, she is also elegant of mind and heart. She is creative, unstoppable and incredibly efficient.
Is it weird being naked? What was your first time like?
It isn’t weird but it’s special. We live in a world where nudity has many good and bad connotations and as a life model I am not beyond all that. I just have found an acceptance of my corporality that make my feel strong and precious when I am uncovered. I am always ready to unclothe my mind and my heart every time my body is unclothed. Not everyone is ready for that, which makes me feel respect for myself.
My first time was in Lavender Hill Studios and I remember everything in a very blurry dreamy way. The light coming through the windows during that summers day sunset was orange, and in the background the music of Cesaria Evora was playing… Her voice made me feel loved, protected.
What goes on in your head when you’re standing naked?
I am always connected with my desires. When I stand, lie or sit naked I flow freely into my very personal, intimate and deep world of fantasies and wishes. Being in silence and challenging my body to it’s limits, also gives me the precious opportunity to just live in the present, which is something we rarely experience in the modern world. I am blessed with a job that offers to me the opportunity to do long hours of daily meditation and self discovery. Every day of modelling is a day of introspection for me. I now need these minutes and hours as much as i need my voice and my capacity of discernment.
Is life modelling easy? What’s your preparation process for this job?
I honestly never do any preparation at all. I like the risk of been in the moment and just being ready to test my limits and discover what I am capable of when the circumstances arrive. I should do some work out or yoga (because the stronger you are, the longer you can hold the poses) but honestly, I don’t have time. I don’t do any kind of exercise apart from walking like crazy – in heels – around London to get to my sessions on time. Modelling every day for many hours is my every day, very tough physical training. It can be very painful and demanding but I am never scared of the challenge, which may be the reason why I always push my body to the limit.
What about the metaphysical aspect of a model becoming a muse?
Just the word “muse” makes my blush! I adore the idea of being more than an empty subject for someone creating art from observation, but I prefer not to consider myself a muse. To call myself one sounds too pretentious to me. Also, I don’t need or want to become too conscious of my potential influence on the creative process of the artists I work with… Being too aware of it could ruin the magic of somehow just being magical…somehow!
What other artists, model, muses do you admire? Do you have inspiration /favourites?
I love the story of artists and models like Gala (Dali’s wife) and Lizzy Sidall who, apart from being painted and drawn extensively by the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, was also a poet, artist and Rosetti’s wife. I also admire the work of Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Modigliani and Alphonse Mucha. They were figurative artists who were more interested in creating their own aesthetic language than copying reality. I love also Sorolla’s portraits and, as mentioned above, most of the artists from the Pre Raphaelite movement.
High levels of expression and communication are my goals as an artist’s model. I have discretely cried, danced and laughed during some of my modelling sessions and I am not ashamed of that. I am not a mannequin but a woman that’s alive – exuberantly alive – and proud of it!
Tell us about your most memorable life-modelling gig. It can be the funniest, the weirdest, the most inspirational, the best paid, the creepiest, etc?
I did a session for people in extreme conditions – homeless and drug addicts – and the experience was very motivational. I realised that concentration is very hard when you don’t have any security in life. They were very distracted on the long poses but they managed to do amazing drawings with the quick ones. I am still amazed about that session and the whole importance of art as remedy to heal the heart and soul.
Has life modelling changed you and how you see yourself?
Life modelling has, in many ways taken me on a path of self discovery. I have truly embraced the real me since I started accepting my body, and connecting with my inner silence and imagination every single day of my life. I accept now things about myself that I always wanted to avoid. I love now things about me that I used to hate. Life modelling or art modelling has been an opportunity to keep exploring my potential as a communicator, the difference being that I now speak through my body.
I have always loved the power of words but having learnt to live without them, I respect them even more.
What would be your dream modelling job?
Modelling with Art Model Collective in the best museums of London and around the world would be wonderful. I would particularly love to do a session in the Victoria & Albert, my absolute favourite museum ever! A world tour with Art Model Collective next summer would be amazing too: New York, Florence, Venice, Tokyo! All these cities are in my life drawing dreams!
You have had so many beautiful sessions with Art Model Collective… Do you have a favourite? Would it be possible for you to pick just one?
It is difficult to choose just one session when almost each one has come from our vivid imagination to reality, with so much love and desire. They all come to life as visually strong pieces of tableaux vivant thanks to our efforts to bring to life even the most abstract of ideas.
But for many sentimental reason i am sure we all have favourite AMC sessions and I am not the exception. I have to confess that I loved every single second of our Modigliani first session at Underdog -we are going to revisit this theme to celebrate the wonderful retrospective of Amadeo Modigliani currently been exhibited at TATE Modern- and when I see the images of what we did that night my heart jumps with excitement and sinks with melancholy at the same time. That session had a very poetic atmosphere and it was planned in a way that made complete sense considering Amadeo’s passion for capturing a soulful portrait of his subjects, and his remarkable ability to create lying nudes of beautiful female models that are in many ways are as sensual as they are revolutionary. That session to me also means the beginning of a more confident me, in territories not exactly related to posing, and the beginning of a photographic romance between Art Model Collective and Toby Deveson, who is also the love of my life.
Your presence online is solid and looks very beautifully curated , do you see a possible progression of the project online? Virtual sessions perhaps?
I am not going to say no, but for now I am happy knowing that Art Model Collective stands for the force of the art, made out of an exceptionally alive instant of pure life. That’s why we work beautifully connected around the idea of creating realities that can relate to the extraordinary, without missing the impulse of that inevitable down-to-earth real human breath. That human breath and heart beat that is at the end what we mainly offer as inspiration in each one of our highly passionate and physically demanding life drawing events. It is the powerful energy that fulfils a room of people working together towards a similar aim that makes the experience almost mystical and quite addictive. In a very digitally oriented world, doing what we do feels very significant and pertinent.
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