This January, Underdog Gallery opens the season with an art show from two Polish artists, fine art photographer Sylwia Makris and sculptor Tomasz Gornicki – called Tarot & Archetypes.
Tarot theme is very close to our hearts.
Coincidentally in 2017/8, we at Art Model Collective have been creating our own series of collaborative multi-model life drawing events with a musician Gene Serene.
What a perfect excuse, therefore, to bring the exhibition and life drawing together and revisit our favourite Tarot characters!
For our “Drawing Tarot” event, Carla and Manko will select their favourite characters to revisit, surrounded by pertinent and evocative curation of brilliant artwork on the gallery walls.
Art Model Collective have already recreated many Tarot cards with life music, guest models, sets, props and costumes. Our “Evoke Archetypes” event series featured Major Arcana characters like The Fool, Magician, High Priestess, The Devil, Tower, Lovers, Strength, Temperance, Chariot, World, Hermit, Emperor and more.
Which cards you’d like to see evoked on stage?
Join us on Tuesday 29 January, 7-9:3pm for some life drawing!
(Tarot & Archetypes exhibition opening: 25th January 6pm)
All levels welcome, join our friendly and social crowd of regulars!
Full bar, and themed soundtrack.
Table spaces, comfy seats and easels.
Free paper and art materials, courtesy by Great Art.
(£15 in advance via BigCartel, £20 cash on the door)
On my 14th birthday my parents took me to an artist studio to get my portrait done as a surprise present. I was a shy teen suffering the ugly duckling phase, so I was, frankly, mortified to sit for a real artist. He asked me to find a spot on his studio wall and focus on it while he drew me, to keep my face still, so I held my breath and did what I was told. I remember being fascinated by strange curios, canvasses piled everywhere, notes and sketches pencilled all over the rough white-washed walls of his remote cottage – the new kind of a chaotic artistic freedom that was so different from a normal tidy “proper” house I knew growing up… He put a sepia stick to the paper, then took a step back and said: “You will be an extraordinary-looking woman when you grow up.”
I didn’t really believe him, but it was such a thrill, and I was hooked. I was captivated with the idea that the way other people see me is quite separate from my own complexes, insecurities, and how I see myself in the mirror.
(His was in fact the kind of house that I ended up with as a grown-up, a colourful mess covered in artistic chaos).
When I moved to London with a small suitcase and a heart full of idealistic anglophilic fancies, I never intended to become a model. Modelling was just “free money for being young”, a by-product of the need to pay rent and tube fare to fabulous adventures. Amongst random jobs as a hairdressers model, a pin-up girl on an alt site, some shady bartending gigs in Soho, catwalks and fashion shoots, I ended up getting my kit off at a local art school. My beloved dandy Quentin Crisp was a life model, and I read his books about being the Naked Civil Servant with a passionate abandon! I loved it (and ended up getting a fine art scholarship from that artschool too.)
This job is still burdened by a frustratingly misjudged presumption of the “life hack” type stories as one of many unskilled jobs anybody broke should have a go at – somewhere between envelope stuffing and selling your hair for profit. It really is not that simple!
A model is a vessel for magic between an artist and the page. What we are, what we do is literally magical. The effect can be brief and instantaneous, or long and painfully drawn out, but in the end, the muse-hood is collaborative and powerful.
Alas, life models have no union, and the recommended pay rate has not gone up in decades. We are often left in cold uncomfortable unsupervised rooms, sometimes open to general public who have no respect nor idea of etiquette. The success of a life drawing group utterly depends on the reliability, professionalism and dedication of the model, yet they still often get offered less than London Living Wage (which was £10.20ph in 2017).
I knew we needed to start a movement that reclaims pride in the profession by being the best we can. We, professional art models with keen eye in posing, styling, lighting, communicating with artists, are worth a better pay than some “organiser” with a stopwatch and a room! I knew we could use our skills, following and experience to take the middle man out of the equation of creating excellent life drawing sessions. We made this collective to claim a fair pay scheme between life models based on equal profit share, while creating exquisite tableaux vivants – with multiple models – for the artists to draw at the regular ticket price.
The co-founder of AMC, the amazing firecracker of a woman that is Carla, impressed me with her beautiful mind and stunning hourglass curves first time I met her, but it wasn’t long before I fell in love with her beautiful, generous soul. She is a true dream to have as a colleague, partner and friend. She levels my anxieties and inspires me when I’m frustrated; Carla lights up my world with her smile, support, ideas, nutritious snacks (you’d be surprised how important those are in life model’s busy schedule!), and a suitcase full of outfits and props she brings to the AMC sessions in even the highest-heeled platforms through London’s rush hour.
Jason Atomic is the “glamorous assistant” in our sessions! Jason has been holding the stopwatch for me in life drawing events way before AMC. He’s my partner in crime, life and work, and I appreciate his ongoing support – even though I know he hates me when I ask him to take docu photos, rather than be drawing us for the billionth time!
Being in a collective is a great challenge – this is not one of those gigs where you just turn up and get your kit off. We all work bloody hard at this project, but it’s a labour of love, and we absolutely believe in its success.
“Nudity is trivial,” said Karl Lagerfeld. I love fashion, costumes, characters… But when I’m nude and anonymous at a life-drawing class in a purely academic setting, artists distort my face and body shapes to suit themselves, to which I submit quietly and happily. It is typical of artists to mould me into their vision, which is one of the biggest thrills of this job.
Even if the drawer meticulously measures my proportions against the end of their pencil, more often than not their taste will warp the reality, subconsciously taking over and twisting the lines. That’s the curious result of the process of my visual image getting translated through someone’s living eye, their brain, past experiences, desires, tastes; then into the skill of hand-eye coordination, and then finally into the decisive, artistic, technical way they apply their charcoal, paintbrush, apple pencil, clay…
From the perspective of a model who did a million photoshoots, this was the new thrill to me. The most rewarding result of a job as a life model is seeing oneself not as you are, but as someone else sees you.
While I model (and some sustained poses can go on for as long a 60 hours), I need to find a way to entertain myself, as I distract myself from the physical strains… Sometimes I replay my favourite movies in my head (RHPC, song by song, line by line!), or try to recall poems I learnt as a child in a foreign language. Sometimes I pretend to be a lizard bathing in a desert sun (i.e. a humming heater frying my right leg!).
Sometimes I spray some old perfume to induce a memory of a past relationship. Or I think how I love my cat, very sloooowwwwly, visualising her softness and beauty, from her whiskers to her bean-toes.
Sometimes, I just count how many breaths a body takes in 20 minutes.
Sometimes I am just completely blank and still. It might sound corny, but when you are constantly on your computer, phone or being distracted by human interactions around you, having some time of pure nothingness is a kind of a glorious relief.
But definitely the best of times are when I get to sit for workshops taught by artists I admire, and get to listen to their tutoring.
Obviously Quentin Crisp… Gala Dalí, Michèle Lamy, Divine, Edie Sedgwick, Elizabeth Ist, Iggy, Ziggy, Nureyev, and hundreds of other people of intense style, power, fragility, strength, suffering, success, failure…
I’ll let you in on a secret… I like to channel my idols. For example, if I feel that I’m lacking an old school glamour before I step on the set, in my head I might pretended to be Candy Darling – the transsexual Warhol superstar who was more feminine than I could ever be, and although I bet she was mostly quite insecure to have been born in a male body, the fact which makes it that much more powerful to me, because she had to work extra hard to become the glamorous woman I adore, and that’s the energy that I am trying to “borrow”. I’m evoking a mythical archetype that empowers me. Venus or Patsy Stone… it’s quite magical, and it always works.
After doing a shoot for Suicidegirls at the Chelsea Hotel in NYC (a genderfuck photo story about Sid & Nancy), I was roaming the art-laden corridors of the legendary hotel in search of rock’n’roll ghosts, when a short British chap in a hat startled me in an empty hallway with an invite to his studio… He turned out to be a Royal Academician, and gave me a huge wad of green notes for 15 minutes of sketching me as I danced around his studio dressed as Sid Vicious high on Adderall. I saw his life sketch of Quentin Crisp in his studio, it literally took my breath away.
My idea of self is a fragile and volatile thing, I am insanely over-analytical and I rarely recognise myself in photos and drawings done by anyone but myself. I dwell in a body dysmorphic disorder, and that’s the magic of the job as a life model, seeing oneself not as you are, but as someone else sees you.
A sculpture tutor once commented on the portrait busts of me at the end of the first year course of 18 students: “And here are eighteen different ways to offend your beauty.” I didn’t feel that way at all, it was heady (excuse the pun) and infinitely thrilling. But then what do I know? Once I hugged a life-size sculpture of me, perfectly measured with callipers, cast in resin, wigged and painted lifelike (not unlike at the Madam Tussaud’s Museum), and I felt my doppelganger creature shockingly delicate, small and frail, not at all how I see myself. It was shocking and wonderful!
Honestly every session turns me into a bundle of nerves! It’s not just me getting my look on for the character of the theme – aside from regular life model routine like shaving, doing my hair, slapping on makeup, and covering my bruises with foundation, I need to also remember to sharpen the pencils, light the set, bring stage props, and attend to a dozen other tasks (which I truly love doing, no complaints!)
And then, the good old fret “is anyone gonna even turn up tonight?”…
So I am simultaneously excited and anxious every time, – yet every time afterwards, while we cheers the post-session drinks with our gang, I’m pleasantly surprised how well it went!
AMC sessions are a huge success specifically thanks to the faithful crowd of regular artists who believe in us and support us. For example, once we had a last-minute venue change, which we moved to a local pub and had a packed session! Our AMC gang is what makes our success, I can never thank enough to our followers. When I see the artwork at the end of the session, I am amazed that they “got ” what we were trying to project, mesmerised by how they did it, and I secretly cry tears of relief that we didn’t fail them.
It’s definitely a tease – while I pose, a part of me is always desperate to be on the other side of the easel! Rest assured that, while I pose, my hands are always twitching in envy of your pencils. I love life drawing and I never get enough of a chance!
Perhaps one day we should hold a session in a mirrored dance studio… I give the audience a back pose, while I draw them in a mirror – you draw me, I draw the audience…. Oh what a glorious thought!
One of the perks of jobs at art schools (which are often poorly paid) is to be able to listen to the tutoring of brilliant artists. The gap in pay is made up by the value of the second-hand tutoring to a life model who also dabbles in art! Hearing the exact measurements of specific oil paint colours that make up my skin tone is geekily satisfying indeed.
I love drawing my fellow models at the life drawing groups of friends, such as Art Macabre or Flesh and Bones, who kindly invite me partake in their sessions as an artist for a change. We pose at each other’s events and hire each other to pose for ours. Life drawing scene in London is prevalent, unique and absolutely wonderful!
Naturally, we always invite our fellow models to AMC sessions to come and draw at no entry price, which many of them do on a regular basis. (Tatiana, Lily, Ed, Sara, etc).
Some months back I said: I want to pose with Carla at the Royal Opera House, held up by corps de ballet, dressed by Alexander McQueen, amongst lavish sets by Pierre et Gilles, set to the live score by Royal Symphony Orchestra, shot by David LaChapelle and drawn by da Vinci, Modigliani, Schiele, Dix and Salvador Dali, – then written about by Sartre and Bukowski – hey, you did ask for a dream!
But since modelling with Art Model Collective, we were dressed by my dream fashion houses – from Rachel Freire and Rob Goodwin to Torture Garden Latex. We’ve had insanely dreamy life drawing sessions where our poses were serenaded by a live violinist, cellist, pianist and an opera singer! We’ve held tribute sessions to Modigliani, Schiele, Bukowski, to which artists responded in most gorgeous ways, which really have scratched the itch of my “wanting” the improbable.
So perhaps a new dream session would be posing with Carla as miniature versions of ourselves in one of my dollshouses, where I construct tiny interiors of alternate realities.
Today, I’d like us to be posing in a derelict mansion house in a vineyard surrounded by goats, painted by Nicola Samori, styled by Francesco Colluci (who dresses the shop windows of TRAID from donated charity shop items), illuminated with tech couture by Rachel Freire, and drawn by YOU!
Can we transport us into my own dollshouses too? With 3D printing, that’s not exactly a supernatural flight of fancy either…. Watch this space!
The last word is by Manko:
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.