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By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Glamorous gals in elaborate makeup and not much else pose provocatively for ogling patrons and then prance about in nothing but robes or less. A DJ pumps out an atmospheric selection of beats. Lighting, props and sensual energy fill the air. Onlookers sip wine and guzzle beer. As they watch the ladies, they scribble on paper. Class is in session.
Forget about clubs, bars, even loft parties — the most creative and colorful social scene these days isn't about dancing, it's about drawing. Figure or life drawing, as it is known. But the purveyors of these underground-style events are providing something wholly different from the academic environments seen inside art schools. Groups such as Dr. Sketchy, Gallery Girls, the Drawing Club and Drink & Draw all offer a place to gather and get your pencil on, not to mention your paint, pastels, even iPad art. The concept might not be new, but the proliferation of hip, new-school sketch soirees in recent years is having an effect on not only the art scene but nightlife, too.
Taking place in backrooms at gallery openings, clubs and bars and in animation and photo studios, these sketch events attract everyone from serious artists to art-minded scenesters, drinkers and fans of the human form.
"The idea was to re-create the feel of turn-of-the-century Paris," says Jennifer Fabos Patton, popular figure model and founder of Gallery Girls. "So many amazing artists and models used to meet and socialize and draw in cafés, nightclubs and bars. It was a dramatic and inspiring thing for everyone."
In 2003 Patton helped bring to life Hailie's Hadies, a sketcher gathering in a Pasadena bar, thrown by models for artists. A couple years later she and model Sara Streeter created Bedlam, a speakeasy-type happening downtown, which included models and a cluster of chairs for others to draw them, in a wild, hedonistic entertainment.
Patton's current company, Gallery Girls, was born out of both events in 2008. It's become a go-to provider for unique figure models at galleries (like Sketch Theatre, thrown by Gnoman School of Visual Effects in Hollywood), clubs (like Mr. Black and Dragonfly) and even competing sketch groups: Both Dr. Sketchy and Drink & Draw hire Patton and her girls to pose on occasion. Many clubs and galleries now hire the gals for atmosphere sans the sketch element.
Gallery Girls' own events are extremely popular as well, from its themed classes at Gallery Godo in Glendale and PoptArt Gallery (recent themes: '80s Liquid Sky looks, Roy Lichtenstein, Kabuki) to megaproductions such as Patton's "Turkish Delights" drawing salon, which is more like a bacchanal, with costumed and nude models, live music and belly dancers.
On a recent Sunday evening, a dozen or so men and women meet up in a desolate parking lot downtown, each toting large satchels filled with art supplies. One by one, they enter a rickety freight elevator, manned by a kind young fellow in a dog collar; he directs them down a long, white hallway. The building is a dingy manufacturing facility, but behind one door, a sleek black-and-white oasis called Studio Servitu awaits. The studio holds primarily fetishy art openings, sexy photo shoots and Dr. Sketchy events, and on this warm summer night, two models from the collective's German offshoot are in town for the latter.
As the sounds of Ministry and Marilyn Manson play in the background, one model removes her robe to do a topless pose ... a triple topless pose — she's wearing a third prosthetic breast. She then gets naked while donning a frog mask, and a male model slips into a full-body blow-up-doll costume complete with face mask and faux protruding penis. It's a pretty freaky scene, but no one in the room seems particularly shocked. In fact, the atmosphere is quite chill, with most patrons seated and seemingly focused on their work, looking up and down repeatedly as they re-create the image before them.
"Many people think of art as a passive thing, something you look at, and that's about it," says Bob Self, the gregarious ringmaster of Dr. Sketchy's Los Angeles, the organizer of this event. "I believe art is much more than something you hang on the wall. It's a lifestyle. It's show business. I strive to make our events socially interactive theater-in-the-round, fueled by creativity and enjoyed by those who want to experience the bohemian side of the art world."
Dr. Sketchy's was founded by an art-school dropout named Molly Crabapple in a dive bar in Brooklyn in 2005. The group has since accumulated more than 100 branches around the world. Crabapple proudly proclaimed her group an "anti-art school," and this kind of subversive sensibility seems to fuel the scene. Art schools tend to be pricey institutions with regimented curriculums, and — particularly when it comes to figure-drawing courses — a pretty staid setup. Models have traditionally been on the nondescript side — theoretically to give artists more of a blank canvas — and they definitely don't engage with the artists. Muse magic usually isn't part of the equation.
At Sketchy's and Gallery Girls — and to a lesser extent the Drawing Club — things are different. The guys and gals holding poses often have dramatic looks and body types. Models will walk around and admire the unique perspective on their likeness, even chat with the artists about it. Sketchy does a series of contests in which the model chooses the best drawings, which are awarded prizes — usually high-quality art books from Self's publishing company, Baby Tattoo Books.
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I'm a professional art model, coming to LA for a visit, and was checking Weekly for something to do while there. This provocative article is perfect for sharing in the workshops I teach for new models. The workshops focus on professionalism, so a news publication that presents sexual theater as representative of our profession is precisely the sort of misrepresentation every art model has to deal with at some point in their career. I'll share LA Art Model's excellent response, too.
I work in the arts industry, not the sex industry. There's a clear division between the two; everyone who works in it – model, artist, studio manager, art professor, student – can see that line. Some models choose to cross it. But then, they aren't art models anymore.
Hi Shefigures, I would love to know more about your new model workshops and about the art industry where you are located. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
La weekly is selling papers. Sex sells. We all know that. I encourage anyone to come to the gallery girl workshops to see for yourself. They are run professionally and by a figure model of 22 years. They were designed mainly as a fun drawing experience for artist to socialize with other artists. Everything is on the up and up. Come for free and check it out.
I have been working as an art model for over 10 years and have seen a lot of changes recently... What most of us models know to be the current and unfortunate trend becomes obvious to the reader of this article from the opening sentence: "Glamorous gals...pose PROVOCATIVELY for OGLING patrons... then PRANCE about in nothing but robes OR LESS." The attitude towards art modeling and thus art models and the amount of respect we are treated with has changed a lot--and honestly, no one is to blame but the models who have allowed and encouraged certain behavior and treatment to become so rampant. The article boasts the same thing that many of these workshops do: Traditional-styled workshops and academia are boring. Who cares about the study of form, contour, shadow, proportion, and the like. Come "sip wine and guzzle beer", and stare at and talk to hot naked or "provocatively dressed" women! Oh yeah, you're welcome to "scribble on paper" while you're here. The article also made very little mention of male art models, and they are just as important in the study of anatomy and drawing the human figure as women. Many of the hyper-sexualized workshops glorified in this article tend to leave the male models out in the cold.....it is called "Gallery GIRLS" after all.
As an idea and artistic endeavor, I'm not trying to bash the workshops mentioned in the articles, or any workshop for that matter. I'm also in no way trying to negatively criticize the lovely person who wrote the article (whom I've met on several occasions), Lina Lecaro or any intention she may have had to simply promote events that she sees as popular and fun. It's the allowed prevalence of sexuality over study, inappropriate and often openly vocalized objectification, and disrespect--sometimes in the presence and encouragement of free-flowing alcohol--that I don't like, and felt that the article was embracing some elements that have been destroying the integrity and level of comfort I feel about my own profession. I used to love hanging out and posing at the workshop "Bedlam", but things got way out of hand and it all fell apart. Towards the end there were still many artists I admired and felt respected by in attendance, but the creep-factor had escalated out of control. To be sure, half of the people weren't there to draw.
Around the same time as the "collapse," I was posing for a new art studio. All was going well, wine was being sipped and soft music was playing as the artists drew my undressed form. At some point, someone asked me if I was a Gallery Girl if I had "been associated with" the Bedlam workshops. As soon as I mentioned that I had posed there, the atmosphere/attitude in the room changed. Suddenly one artist says: "Do you know the model ____? Man, she has a great ass." Another artist, a teacher I knew chimed in "_____ is a FANTASTIC model but her tits are so sad." I sat posing quietly irritated as the conversation escalated to whether or not an instructor and a model had had sex and then the chuckling over the size of another model's penis. My timer went off and after reconsidering the speech I'd mentally prepared on the model stand, I simply requested that the person in charge tell the group to be respectful and stop talking. The response to this was one of surprise and "oh, I didn't think you'd mind--considering how some of the other girls are......" He then asked me if I was available for more bookings and if I had any latex, corsets, or garter belts ("but we don't want panties in here") to wear to those bookings. I declined.
Declining these sorts of bookings seems to get no message across other than "that model is uptight"; as long as others are willing to play along, they'll keep doing it. They're not all creeps out there...but it usually doesn't take long to find out/read who is. A lot of the potential creeps are reading us models too, and it puts more drain and strain on us as we do our best to look strong, confident, "no-nonsense," and ward off/discourage all sorts of inappropriate behavior in addition to doing our job: coming up with interesting and challenging poses for our clients, and holding them. It's not easy. As one commenter on the article mentioned: "It is UNFAIR that those that have a deep reverence for the calling & do not wish to participate have to do ''damage control'."
As I gathered my things to leave the "sleaze-ball studio" I mentioned above, two artists that had remained focused and had not spoken the entire session told me that they disapproved of many of the drawing workshops: "I want to draw. If I wanted to see all that other BS I'd go to a strip club....but that's a whole other set of needs that so many of these so-called artists are trying to feed." One of them exchanged emails with me and wrote: "Why are so many of the models acting like sluts and giving in to this trash? Do you know of any serious workshops focused on actually drawing? Costumes are fine, its just all that other BS I want to stay away from. I mean, even strip clubs have a posted set of rules and code of conduct." Dude had a point! Patrons of strip clubs seem to have better manners than some of the patrons of drawing workshops these days--and the girls get paid better! But I digress....
I'm reminded of a friend of mine who used to work in a holistic health center as a massage therapist. She came to work every day knowing what to expect and feeling respected by her peers and clients. Suddenly, around the time some new girls were hired, her clientele changed. Then the overall attitude in the health center changed--it wasn't fun anymore...and she couldn't put her finger on the reason why. Then--to her shock and dismay--one of her clients asked her, rather nonchalantly, for a "happy ending". She was horrified and started to hate her job, feeling drained and strained where she used to feel joyful and energized by the gratitude of her clients...until police arrived one day and shut the whole place down.
What had happened there is actually not to far from what has happened here: some of the models have allowed things to go too far, on more than several occasions, to the point where the unsavory is requested without hesitation. Summarized example: a girl I know is invited to try art modeling at a large themed workshop. She arrives in costume and is unimpressed by the costumes or lack-there-of of the other models. In any case, she takes a seated pose with one leg extended and chooses a spot upon which to fix her gaze. As she is settling into the pose and the new experience of not moving, another model decides to sit on her extended foot, forcing toes into her vagina. No, I'm not kidding. Fast forward to the end of the event where people are trying to solicit her as she leaves. This is her experience with the art model world--and the sort of scene being advertised by your article.
Yes, sex and sexuality sells and can be used to draw a crowd but what kind of quality, respect, and repeat patronage can a model expect from that kind of crowd in the long-run? What kind of respect do you have for yourself as a man or woman, as a model, and as a professional? I love sex, sexuality, and even BDSM/kink--but that is my personal life, none of my employers business, and not something I'd use to attempt to lure and tantalize the wrong kinds of clients.
There are plenty of other workshops in LA--some new and some that have been around for decades--that were not mentioned in the article, and I found that disappointing as well.
My two cents on the matter, thanks for listening!
It is this type of unsavory tripe that glorifies vulgarity & CHEAPENS the profession. It is UNFAIR that those that have a deep reverance for the calling & do not wish to participate have to do ''damage control''. These days I simply say NOT INTERESTED, but, I will close with the statement that ''sexy'' is NOT always the same as ''inspiring'' .......much the same way an ''art model'' is NOT the same thing as being a ''MUSE''........
Thanks, as always for the invaluable input, Toni.You didn't seem to have an issue when you used to get money at Hailes and Bedlam and Dr Sketchy's too. The Amish workshops just don't have the same bite.We do our best to keep models, like yourself, with such emotional sensitivities away from these sexually overt workshops.Thanks again for steering clear!
Hurrah for alternative drawing in all our amazing cities.
For those not fortunate enough to live in sunny California, The Keyhole Sessions in Toronto, Canada also offers a place to get your drawing kink on. Artists and models mingle and share and have a grand time.
It is sad that in this article some of the more artistic, inspirational, and serious drawing and painting sessions have been left out or defamed. As an art Model who has worked at some of these events and in classrooms, private studios etc. I can say each situation is different and I prefer to work where there is not sexual tention and I am not being paid for being a sexy attraction but for the true charisma, inspiration, and information I have to offer. Models have always been dramatic character types, from the days of old in Paris to now, but they have never been so objectified or dehumanized then they are now with the recent trend. The part about the strict classroom is a erroneous generalization, though some classes are structured this way, many classes there is much interaction between the artists and models, yet with an air of studiousness and respect and real human interaction. There is room for many variations and sensuality is not a terrible thing, but blatant sexuality and exploration of humans for profit is. Sometimes these events tree very close to the tin line between and even sometime behind the illusion blatently jump right over that line.
You should read your history, Roxanne. You have got a romantic notion about the history of figure modeling.
My notion is based off experience and research Jennifer. And I strive to maintain the respect and push for high standards in the modeling profession and continue to support the efforts of present day models to make it a respected profession in which talented people can support themselves by earning a living. One studio I was reffered to that is thriving in present day Paris even hires models for 6 month contracts, offers subsidized room and board and guarantees a 30-40 hour work week. Why must we revert back to the time in history when "modeling nude was, as late as 1920, often considered by those outside the art community to be more scandalous than prostitution."
The above quote is from an interesting article from Art in America that Wes Christensen shared with me last year, "A Short History of Modeling" by Billy Kluver and Julie Martin. "The much-misunderstood profession of artist's model underwent radical changes with the approach of modernism. Herewith an anecdotal account of the life and hard times of the Paris model-an essential member of the turn-of-the-century art world."
The following are some quotes and information from this article:
"During the long reign of state-supported academic painting, the model most sought after was likely to be male: "His great stature and the elegance of his proportions, which were needed to wear the costumes which the genre of historical motifs require....his intelligence, his long experience, his stamina while posing were precious to the artist."' (Charles Dubosc, Dubosc Modele: Soixante an dans les ateliers des artists, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1986, p. 23) Dubosc was part of a group of professional art models which had been formed in the first half of the 1800s. He had a 60 year career posing.
"The models were proud of their collaboration and bragged about the work they appeared in; instead of saying "So-and-so did that after me" a model would say "I made that together with So-and-so." Le Roux, L'Enfer parisien, p. 75
At one time it was considered honest work and paid better for the women then being a servant or seamstress. Then as industrialization took hold the pool of models lessened as better job opportunities arose. But then Italian emigrants flooded into Paris in hopes of making living and escaping the poverty of Italy around the 1850s. "They discovered two members [of a family] working as models could support the whole family." (Kluver, Martin).
"In 1885 or '86 an Italian former model, Socci, opened the Agence des Modeles Vivants...Within a few years, he had more then 200 models enrolled." (Kluver, Martin: Letheve, Daily Life p. 76; Virmaitre, Paris-Palette, p. 80; Le Roux, L'Enfer parisien, pp. 79-82.)
"Virmaitre also tells of rameneurs who each year went to Rome and naples, where they chose women "more often for their type than for their beauty" and signed them to three-year contracts...the price was fixed and the hours set." (Paris-Palette, pp 78-79.)
1880s: Montparnasse is home to the development of another model market. Models would gather on Mondays outside of the Academies. Here some models where chosen and some sent home, or private artists would arrange sessions with models they chose from the gathering hoards without a third party. There were other networks as well and some artists chose to work from photographs to save money. (Kluver, Martin)
Some models were booked months in advance, some sought after by artists, or passed from studio to studio, and some made their rounds offering their services. Still more models were needed with the abundance of artists showing and thriving in Paris. Many who focused on historical and literary subjects for their paintings or sculptures. Many artists asked friends, family members, and aquaintances to pose as well. (Kluver, Martin)
This began to change as artists became interested in the everyday life of Paris and sought models in the general public, which brought up issues of propriety but this probably had more to do with "what the bourgeois world imagined happen after, or instead of, the posing session." (Kluver, Martin)
"Among the Italians there was no such false modesty. For them to be a model was a serious trade that brought in good money if you had a taste for the work, and that was passed from one generation to the next." (Gustave Fuss-Amore and Maurice des Ombiaux, Montparnasse, Paris, Albin Michel 1925, p. 194.)
Working as a painter until his death in 1905, Bouguereau would hire his favorite model for a salery of 300 francs a month to ensure she was around and she would knit or help in the kitchen until needed for a pose. (Letheve, Daily Life, p. 77.)
1914 due to the decision by the French government ordering all foreigners to register with the police, the Italian models period in France ended because most did not have papers, "since, to this day (1991), modeling has never been recognized as a profession in France." (Kluver, Martin) Also, due to the war, salons were cancelled and artist mobilized as well as models asked to return to their native country. (Jean-Emile Bayard, Montparnasse: Hier et aujourd'hui, Paris, Jouve, 1927, p. 403)
Renewed interest in the nude came in the early 20th century.Female models became more in demand with the avant gurde movement and the female nude became popular. The females who began to model many times accidentally found the art community "...and found modeling a means of becoming independent within it. These women were revolting against the general exploitation of young women in French society, both in the family and the workplace. Many were bright but had been held back by their parents, taken out of school at the earliest possible moment, apprenticed to tyrannical employers or made to marry men of their families choice. After years of abuse, these women often literally fled their homes and gravitated to the art community. Many of them changed their names to assure anonymity and avoid detection by their families." This included Models like Kiki de Montparnasse, like many who were artists in their own right but she remained more a friend of the artists then "professional" art model. According to this "...Short History of Modeling" the bourgeois prejudice persisted, unfortunately, up until the early 20th century, which is how far this article covers except for the insert of an interview with model Badia dating 1984... The perspective of Badia, a model in 1984 Paris, points out that the work is not reassured, pay is sometimes minimal, and you don't receive social security. She likes to introduce a bit of sensuality and eroticism into her work. Which seems to be similar to what present day attitude and conditions for the life model are reverting back to. [Howevere, when I began to model in 2006 I was encouraged, could be myself, sexuality was not a thought nor issue with sessions, it was about learning, developing as artists, and challenging myself as a life model to be punctual, professional, and help have a good energy so the sessions would be inspiring and productive. I often was invited and attended shows in support of the artists I had worked with. And, being able to depend on a certain number of sessions per month or per term from the studios I worked with, and competitive pay rates for the work, without having to worry about comments or harassment from workshop attendees, monitors, or teachers made for a great working environment. The monitor or instructors at the session up until the past couple of years also made my needs as a model priority, and this enabled me to keep the artists needs for time drawing etc. a priority.]