May 122016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

I may seem obsessed with Schiele’s and Freud’s sexually explicit poses. Really it’s a case of being fascinated by the issues they throw up. In this photo by Aussie Cyril (from our second M50 session yesterday) I’m in a pose I copied from a Lucian Freud painting. I’ve over-photoshopped it, trying to make it look textured like the painting. Art critic William Boyd associates the two artists (he refers to ‘the disturbing power of … a Lucian Freud’) in an article primarily about the ‘sexual frankness’ of the chronologically much earlier Egon Schiele, whose notorious explicit nude studies were a ‘visceral shock to pre-First World War viewers’. Way ahead of his time, and condemned by many as obscene, the young Schiele endeavoured to “strip away the lies and surface pretences” of social hypocrisy – the repressive values and attitudes that prevailed at the beginning of the 20th century in Vienna and Europe-wide. Even today, many would be deeply shocked if I, as a life model, copied certain of Schiele’s famous poses. I can’t think of a single artist acquaintance who would be blasé about drawing me masturbating. Is this a case of similar “repressive values and attitudes” prevailing even nowadays?

Sunday. Two days since the end of exam week. End of semester. The campus is already eerily quiet, the students having left to join the national hordes flocking home for Spring Festival. So – at last – a chance for us to talk?
    It is end-of-January freezing and I am under my duvet, re-reading William Boyd’s Guardian article about Schiele and erotica. I turn to Bel. ‘Does copying Egon Schiele’s and Lucian Freud’s poses make me a wannabe porn-star?’
    Bel looks up from marking exam papers in her bed. ‘No. Why should it? Why should the fact that their paintings are sexually charged automatically associate them with porn? I mean, some of their really famous ones are quite grotesque, not at all beautiful.’
    ‘Yes – that’s precisely why I like them. I like edgy. I like disturbing. It’s sex but it’s not porn.’
    Bel yawns, stretches, seems relaxed. No frowning or agitation. Great!
    I warm to my theme. ‘Schiele is sex. That’s why every student in every college class I’ve ever modelled for is a Schiele devotee. He only drew the body-parts he was into. Never mind the head or the feet, straight to the genitals.’
    Bel actually grins.
    ‘The only place masturbation’s permissible in a school is in the Schiele catalogue in the art room.’ Ping! ‘Oops, excuse me – a text.’
    Bel instantly puts her head back into her marking. Darn. I love that we’re chatting about Art.
    I take a look. ‘Poo. Cyril. He wants to “continue our discussion of Picasso”.’
    Bel doesn’t look up. ‘Never stops asking you for dates, these days. You should go. Why not get a free meal out?’
    ‘For heaven’s sake, Bel, I don’t want to socialise with Cyril.’
    Bel raises her eyes from the exam papers, looks quizzically at me.
    ‘Quite frankly I’d rather discuss Picasso with you. I’d rather discuss anything with you.’
    ‘Go on, then,’ she sits back – ‘I’m bored of this.’
    ‘Oh! right – well: Cyril’s in total agreement with that feminist mad-woman Karen Kleinfelder who says Picasso’s late works are about male sexual power over women. You know. The fantasy of possession of the model. But there’s this other academic Marie-Laure Bernadac, who says those works are just – wait, let me quote: “a later-life exploration of the female realm.” As in, not exploitative at all.’
    ‘Or at least, not that specifically,’ Bel agrees. ‘And anyway, I always wonder – what’s actually wrong with artworks that show a power relationship – a sexual relationship – between male and female?’
    ‘Exactly my question! Why is Kleinfelder so derangedly angry with Picasso for relating to women sexually?’
    Bel shrugs. ‘I’ve never actually understood why artists having sex with models is a problem.’
    ‘Me neither. I mean, which way is the exploitation, in the end? Isn’t there a tradition of on-the-face-of-it ‘subordinate’ female secretaries exploiting their rich bosses for their own ends, by manipulating them with sex?’ I get out of bed. ‘Cuppa tea?’ Heading for the kitchen, I call – ‘Traditionally, surely most artists’ models would have been expecting it to get sexual?’
    I don’t hear a response.
    I come back from switching the kettle on – ‘I mean, Schiele’s so-called muse Wally Neuzil: she was integral to his life. His primary relationship. Can’t we assume it was mutually beneficial? Why insist on calling it exploitation?’
    ‘Maybe.’
    ‘Like, I’m sure Lee Miller fully intended her relationship with Man Ray to be sexual.’
    ‘Well of course, she’s a person who’d only have sex if she wanted to…’ Bel ponders for a moment, ‘though anyway she was working more with photographers than artists. I think there might be more likelihood of sex between photographer and model than artist and model, considering that with photography there’s much more one-to-one work.’
    ‘I think that’s definitely the case. Like, you know Charis Wilson, Edward Weston’s ‘muse’ who became his second wife? She expected sex with him from the outset. It was Charis who brought it about. Let me get Cyril’s book…’ I scoot to fetch it from the living room.
    Maybe we’ll go on being like this from now on? Maybe I could stay on with Bel after all?
    Should I get into her bed?
    I dive back into my own bed with the book. ‘It says here that the very first time Charis modelled for Edward there was a sexual tension that “had to be diffused with breathless conversation” – and the second session, they had full-blown sex which she initiated herself – because he was apparently “shy” – by giving him a “very compelling look”. And he goes, “I felt a response…”
    We both guffaw. ‘“Eyes don’t lie and she wore no mask… At last she lay there below me waiting, holding my eyes with hers.”’ Breaking off, I quip cheerfully, ‘Bel – is there anything we don’t agree on?’
    ‘That all men are bastards? Coz you seem very well-disposed towards Cyril.’
    Why this sudden barb out of nowhere?
    I do another guffaw, a bit over-hearty. ‘Obviously all men are bastards. And Cyril’s in the sub-category “fat bastards”. Speaking of which, listen to this: throughout Weston’s affair with Charis he also kept on a long-suffering and faithful wife in the background who was bringing up his four sons. Quote: “Poor Flora… I must try to be tender to her, it is not easy to thrust aside such a great love as she offers me”.’
    We both go, ‘Bastard!’


 

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May 052016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

What’s so refreshing about working with photographers is their appreciation of my gestures and movement and personality, in contrast to plodding sketchers whose only mundane goal is “accuracy” – a snobbish aspiration to demonstrate Leonardo-esque drawing skills. Give me any day the photographer-model relationship: an intuitive combining of the flair and spirit of two people.
    To be fair, there are artists who do capture the moment; artists who stand at arm’s length from their easels applying swift, urgent strokes that start from the shoulder rather than the finger-tips; breathless artists with shifting feet who race to produce drawings of a creature on the verge of moving: a model who has flung herself into a wild shape that can only be held for a few moments, her tremulous muscles at snapping-point. Their quick, raw sketches are not about technical accuracy.
    But isn’t there still an essential difference between artist-model and photographer-model dynamics? I mean, what artist would ever say, à la Helmut Newton, “yeh, give it to me baby”? Note: I’d be okay with Newton saying that to me because he’s the genius-level of brilliant, but if Aussie Cyril took that tone I’d be grossed out. Also note: on a bipolar scale, Bel is way at the opposite end from Newton, ghostly in her lack of assertiveness in the model’s domain; silently, unobtrusively documenting the model’s chosen way of presenting herself rather than endeavouring to shape the final image. Bel comes at it with no agenda.

Is that strange?

Over my shoulder Bel is looking at my iPad. ‘One of Cyril’s?’ She sounds unimpressed.
    ‘Yes – it’s from our last shoot. Last week. He was aiming for something like Alfred Stieglitz’s 1921 portrait of Georgia O-Keefe’s neck. I hate my old woman’s face, but the composition and contrasts are interesting. Though I think I’ve over-photoshopped it…’
    ‘You mean you’ve gone a whole week without seeing Cyril?’
    Was that sarcasm? I don’t react to it. ‘Yep! Think he’s losing his romantic aspirations at last, thank goodness.’ (Though I am missing the money).
    Ping! A text.
    ‘Ah. Talk of the devil…’ I grin (why do I feel sheepish?).

My dearest Suki –
sorry for silence! That fantastic session at 50 Moganshan last week exhausted me. By the end, sheer concentration was wearing me out. Have needed a period of repose. But we must definitely book that room again. Just been perusing online more of Schiele’s work – graphic, sexual. Not surprising that he got arrested for allowing children to see “indecent pictures” in his studio. Have you read anything about his muse Wally Neuzil? Other than Wally his models were always prostitutes. How does one model come to be considered a muse when all others are simply prostitutes? Your Cyril x

Cyril
Yes please – do book that same M50 space again. Due to that big whitewashed wall at one end, it’s perfect for reproducing the Schiele-esque look: sharp, spiky sketches that float without context in empty white space. Re Schiele’s “indecent pictures”: the lines between fine art, erotica and pornography are completely arbitrary: culture-bound, generation-bound – don’t you agree?
    Schiele only drew what he was interested in, especially (it has to be said) genitalia: he would literally just leave some other parts of the anatomy blank, like, he couldn’t be bothered to draw the boring bits. But then he was barely out of adolescence when he reached the prime of his career. Don’t you find Lucian Freud to be similar? I mean eye-wateringly explicit – serving up his models’ genitals bang in the centre of his paintings like hot dinners on plates. Female models. Male models. His own daughter. I wonder whether Courbet’s face-slappingly graphic ‘Origin of the World’ painting set a precedent, without which Schiele and Freud would never have got away with their stuff?
    Btw, I totally agree with art critic William Boyd re Schiele’s “superabundant gift” in drawing the human form:
“You can’t be a truly great painter if you’re not an excellent draughtsman”. True, yes? Suki

Dearest Suki,
so much discussion-fodder! May we meet? Dinner at the Radisson tomorrow? A further interesting point in that Boyd article:
“Hugely famous and successful artists who draw as well, or as badly, as a 10-year-old are everywhere acclaimed…” Jackson Pollock being one example. What’s your opinion on Pollock, Suki – could he draw? And does that matter, especially in regard to the current top popular UK artists? How do you rate Tracey Emin’s figure-drawing skills? And David Hockney’s drawing skills – is Hockney only good at colour?’
Cyril xx

He’s asking me out on a date. O bugger.
    But can I resist the Shanghai Radisson?
    After all, I do need to set him straight – of course Hockney can draw!!!!!


 

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Apr 142016
 



ALT TEXT

Jacques-from-Brussels

I’ve photoshopped more of Jacques-from-Brussels’ shots from that first group session. Though Jacques is a keen life-long photo-journalist with excellent kit, we just didn’t have a rapport. Now that I have cropped this one to emphasise my hideous belly and taken out some colour, intentionally “making an ugly thing happen” (to quote Helmut Newton, preceding his emphatic declaration that he “would never do that to a woman”), I do like this pic. I want Schiele-esque grotesqueness, not Jacques’ prettiness.

New year, new effort to get to know Bel. Coz we’ve lived together for more than three months and it’s getting stupid.
    ‘Why I really came here?’ Bel pauses from doing the dishes. ‘Okay. I think I came here because if I stay well away from my daughter, no-one can tell me I’m the root cause of her schizophrenia.’
    ‘Flipping heck Bel’ – I, too, pause from drying up – ‘who’s been telling you that?’
    ‘It’s an established theory. They trot it out.’
    ‘Bastards.’
    ‘Or they don’t speak it, you can just feel it in the way they deal with you. As the mother.’
    ‘Who? The doctors? Sure you’re not being paranoid? Oh god’ – I wince – ‘’scuse that accidental… Sorry…’

My rapid escape to the Delightful Peony is only for an hour. But by my return, Bel seems deeply under a cloud.
    She hands me a substantial tome, Nude: Theory. ‘Your fan just stopped by.’
    ‘What – Aussie Cyril?’ (Has Bel’s distress been caused by the unexpected visitor? Or something else?) ‘Why didn’t he wait?’
    ‘He wouldn’t let me text you. Just wanted to drop it off.’ She is back at her desk, fumbling agitatedly for a cigarette.
    ‘Are you okay?’
    Bel turns to me – ‘How can any of us be “okay”?’ She smacks at a print-out of an article. ‘Seen this? Climate change is threatening global food supply. Demand for food is fast outstripping supply. Vast tracts of Africa and China are turning into dustbowls on a scale that dwarfs the one that devastated the US in the 1930s…’

I escape to the bedroom, close the door, sit at my makeshift desk. Bel’s world scares me beyond words. I need to bury my head in Art, creativity, Adobe Photoshop… Anything to distract myself from the imminent apocalypse.

Dear Cyril,
sorry to have missed you dropping by the flat, thanks for this fab book! Are you up for doing a proper studio shoot? Maybe at 50 Moganshan?? I want to try more Schiele poses. I have props. How about Monday or Tuesday? Suki x

My dear Suki!
I arrived here at the Delightful Peony a few moments ago, but have obviously just missed you. If you would permit me to buy you a rather disgusting sweetened latte I would love to converse with you face to face? Am sitting here reading about that old goat Picasso. Actually it’s a book primarily about Lee Miller’s relationship with Roland Penrose, but there’s an interesting quote by New York artist Lee Krasner (Jackson Pollock‘s wife), that the Parisian Surrealists “treated their women like French poodles”. You must know that Picasso famously said, women “make good models and poor artists”? Hope to see you shortly! Cyril xx

Cyril
re Picasso: so what. Don’t forget that Lee Miller – prototypically a liberated, autonomous woman – managed to be friends with Picasso on equal terms for thirty-six years! He painted six portraits of her and she took over a thousand photos of him. There are plenty of old goats coming out with sexist nonsense all over the place. They can at the same time be charming and fun and therefore forgivable. S
PS Soz, can’t come to café, Bel unwell.

Dearest Suki,
defend Picasso if you will. This book I’m reading says that women in his circle were “constrained to the traditional art-historic role of a passive object to be admired, mythologised, dressed and undressed as the perfect accessory to the male artists’ statement of who they were and how they interpreted their world”. Picasso’s late works depict an ever-lovely young model juxtaposed with himself looking increasingly decrepit and grotesque. These images make us “voyeurs of voyeurism”, witnessing the artist’s desire to possess. Thus we, too, enjoy the fantasy of possession of the “object”: the woman.
    What is the matter with Bel? Cx

Why is Cyril copying out all this? Does he think the way to my heart is to be feminist and right-on?
    Is that truly, as Bel would have it, his aim? My heart?

Dear Cyril,
Picasso’s portrayal of an imbalance of power in favour of the male is a reflection of the world he was living in, not his personal misogyny. Somewhere I have read – and I agree – that Picasso’s nudes continue, to the end of his life, to represent the epitome of beauty, fertility, and nature itself. Sexist pig maybe, but he LOVED WOMEN.
    All relationships are in reality power-games. I think you know what I mean. True freedom is when we can choose our roles, and play them out – which we in liberal societies have the privilege to do (unlike in some corners of this world).
Suki
PS Bel is depressed. I’d feel bad leaving her alone, soz.

That’s my excuse, anyway.


 

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