Imagine you have just died. You were really really old. In fact, you have out lived your family and your friends.
A stranger comes into your home to catalogue your possessions.They are an estate manager and they must clear your household to honor your will or to pay off any bills you may have left. They come inside your home or apartment and there is one painting, a chair, and a bed. The painting is in a place of honor, well lit. They stop and stare at the painting. It is your legacy.
That painting should tell the person as much about you as the music you have on a shelf or the books that you own. A painting should reveal to people if you were funny, romantic, spiritual, mystical, patriotic, sensuous, and even what colors you liked.
Choose a painting, drawing or a sculpture like it is the only thing you will look at every day for the rest of your life.
Fall “in love” with it. When you are in love you cherish what you love, enjoy the time you spend together, are proud to be seen with your love. If you buy for love, not investment, you will never regret it.
Later you may find it was just puppy love and fall for a more mature lover; that will be the second piece in your collection.
To follow Uriél Dana’s Twitter feed on contemporary figurative art you can find her at Twitter.com/Uridev
Time and climate are not our friends when it comes to paintings or our skin. Craquelure is the network of fine cracks that appear in the skin of a painting. Many things can cause these cracks.
Sadly, much like the human face, cracks occurring in the paint layers or ground are usually indicative of age or stress. Instead of the scull, these cracks run through the layers of a painting. They take the form of a dense network of fine fissures which run in straight or slightly curved lines. Think laugh lines.
Picture distortions create cracks when something has pressed the canvas from the back or even a forger using their fingers.
Aging of the picture layer, micro pores and micro-fissures (aka blanching), and stresses caused by tension and pressure can also cause cracking.
Cracks on wood panel paintings create garland cracks, diagonal cracks, spiral and corn ear cracks caused by pressure.
To make things even more complicated there are also artificial craquelure done for effect. I used a product called Vernis a Craqueler by a French company for an exhibit I did with the late Gage Taylor called “Alien X-mas” at Anon Salon in San Francisco. It is a two step process using oil and water based varnishes to get the effect. The painting was called “Peace on Earth”.
Art Credit: Mona Lisa by Leonard DaVinci, detail of craquelure
Art critics evaluate art in a historical context. They see the big, overall picture of what is going on in a culture during the specific time it is created. The most successful art is a reflection of the zeitgeist of its creator. It is the art critic that is able to spot a movement.
Art critic and curator, Walter Hopps, noticed a new kind of style popping up in art competitions. It had a spiritual, fantasy element to it but it was not illustration or sentimental. It reflected the human potential movement and spiritual awakening happening in California in the 1970’s. It’s important to remember these were artists painting spiritual or drug-induced awakenings before special effects, computers, or CGI. They were seeing the world in a new way and sought to share that vision.
When an artist gets a bad review for his work it is usually because he is not being authentic to his time or himself.
Many artists were influenced by California Visionary Art and the first two or three generations were part of the spiritual awakening happening at the time; the ashrams, the gurus, the meditation groups, the groups focusing on peace towards people and animals (vegetarianism), the awakening of Buddhism in the West.
By the 4th generation, we see people painting unicorns and rainbows with garish colors with sickly sweet sentimentality. These artists adapted the “persona” of a movement but were not “authentic” to the movement. This work is not collectible and critics see it for what it is, derivative.
Art critics have years of art history education under their belt and even experience viewing, curating, or judging artwork for exhibitions. They can spot an artist copying another artist in an instant.
Museums have always been magical places to me. Every room allows us to enter a bardo or in-between world that bridges the artist and ourselves. The emotions held by the artist while creating, remain in the artwork forever.
Aminatta Forna contributed her haunting trip through The Museum of Broken Relationships. Not the one on Hollywood Boulevard or in Covent Garden London, but the original museum in Zagreb, Croatia. Every object on display was a relic of a death, a divorce, or a mystery disappearance during a war. In this museum, the theme is clear: all love ends in a loss.
Museums are time capsules of the soul of a place. They capture the beauty of those who were a part of its living history. We are drawn to what is sleeping inside us; peace, answers, eccentricities, time travel.
Every seed within us can flower in the right museum. Are you curious about the size and shape of penises of fellow mammals? The Phallological Museum in Iceland might mark your next vacation destination. There is a hair museum in Independence, Missouri. Its paintings, jewelry, and wreaths are all made from the hair of the dead.
Museums are often created by people with passions bordering on terror. Those collections are the very best ones to visit!
The Cinema Museum in London, for example, was a creation of an ageless 70-year-old named Ronald Grant who combined an encyclopedic knowledge of film history and over a million film-related images and items going back to the late 1800’s.
Museums require emotional, spiritual, and intellectual participation. Those taking selfies or checking emails cannot experience the art. They are “elsewhere”. It is just as rude to engage with your phone around art, as it would be on a date.
In what is often thought of as “traditional” art museums, I have observed people disconnected from their environment. They are removed from what it is they are seeing.I can spot them in an instant because they spend a little too long reading the museum labels and barely look at the art they identify.
People roam from painting to painting looking for something they can recognize. Often they only attend blockbuster traveling exhibits because they have “heard” of the artist’s name yet do not understand why what they are looking at is significant.
In the ancient world of Egypt and Greece, temples were repositories of the accumulated wealth of an entire society.
In the Middle Ages, churches, hospitals, and monasteries kept treasures to honor God. Sadly, many of those were donated as reparation for perceived sins.
In the 15th century, our relationship to our world changed. We developed new beliefs that we could shape our own destiny. Objects became functional as well as aesthetic.
In a way, the 16th century was our first tech boom. People collected technological instruments, sculptures, drawings, or any other objects that might be the next big thing. Think of the aesthetics of Steampunk or the worlds of Jules Verne Novels.
The 17th Century was the Golden Age of Art Collecting. A mark of prestige with the nobility, it was both a passion and an investment. The Middle Class with their love of paintings and objects from around the world became the Google and the Amazon of the newly wealthy merchant class. Exploration was in. Paintings were your photostream, proof of exotic worlds that you had access to.
Prior to the 17th and 18th century, art was only owned and collected by royalty and the mega-rich. It was a rare honor and a privilege to be allowed to see art in the place it was created to hang.
Later these palaces such as The Louvre in Paris or The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, offered to share their treasures with the public. They recognized they were privileged caretakers of these rarely seen creations.
When you enter a museum you are honoring those who spent a lifetime collecting the best work of the gifted, the skilled, the innovative, and insightful.
Museums are like any sacred place: the person next to you may be experiencing something truly profound in their life. An artist may be analyzing how something was painted. Historical paintings reveal what was lost in textbooks. Before photography, without landscape painters, we would not remember what our country looked like before machines and man changed its shape. Paintings show us our ancestors and the history of fabric and of wealth.
There is etiquette when visiting these public palaces. Never mock the artwork if you are not alone in a gallery. Do not laugh at art unless you are positive it is meant to be funny. Do not touch the art, or photograph it. The oils in your skin and a flash can damage its surface.
If you are taking selfies or photographing the art you are not in the museum for the art, you are there to show off. If you want to make an impression, buy an actual postcard from the museum and mail it to someone as a surprise.
Dress like you are going to lunch at the home of your friend’s very rich parents. Do not dress in a slutty way that will get those parents to disapprove of you. Wear shoes that are quiet and do not damage the floors or the carpets. Do not touch anything and always use your indoor voice.
The walls are alive in a museum but only to those with an attention span longer than a housefly.
Art Credit: Night At The Museum by Canadian Digital Manipulation Artist “Shorra”
My Mother was a product of color conditioning. She believed “pink was for girls, blue was for boys”.
About the time I was ready for my “big girl bed”, she hired a decorator to outfit a canopy bed, complete with matching dust ruffles, pillows, and drapes, in pink and white checked gingham.
I stood looking at the fabric samples in horror. “I don’t like pink”. They ignored me. “I don’t like pink” I tried to insert once again into their dialogue. Each attempt to communicate was ignored. I was only four years old after all, what did I know?
After a few weeks furniture was delivered. An elated decorator dashed about my room completing all of its finishing touches for its big reveal. I walked into my room and politely told her I did not like pink and please take it away. She ignored me, of course.
An hour later she and my Mother were celebrating their mutual gain over coffee in the kitchen. I was invisible. I went to the drawer next to the stove, and took out a box of matches, and marched right up to my bedroom.
With the first match I torched the drapes above my desk. I then torched the canopy, the shams, and the dust ruffle. Fabric fire codes were barely in existence at the time and everything seemed to burn quite nicely. I was satisfied.
I walked downstairs and placed the matches on the table between the two women. Looking directly into my mother’s eyes I declared, “I do not like pink”. You could smell the smoke by then. My mother grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran up the stairs. I have no idea who called the fire department.
The house was fine, but my new bedroom was damaged beyond repair. The decorator looked horrified. Her knee was even with my eye level. I gently touched it to comfort her. She looked down at me. I softly reassured her, “I was thinking, something in a yellow?” I couldn’t work out if she was laughing or crying.
I promise you I have not torched another property since that time. However, with hindsight, that finely tuned sense of color that made me do such a thing has actually been an asset all of my working life.
People think of color in terms of dyes or pigments but perceiving color is an illusion.
These signals are measured in meters ranging from several hundred meters to light waves that are so short they must be measured in nanometers (1-millionth of a millimeter).
Humans can only perceive a small amount of this spectrum.400 nanometers looks like indigo to our brains and 700 nanometers looks like a deep red to most of us.”
Seeing the colors around us is an interactive visual process that only exists in the observer’s brain and our interpretation of it. Although our perception of color is influenced moment to moment by light, we respond individually to their electro-magnetic vibrations.
In 1975 the UCLA Rolf Study was begun to measure electro-physical activity of muscles when receiving deep Rolfing massage. Placing electrodes on the major chakra/acupuncture points they were able to make the color, shape and movement of these fields observable. Simultaneously, the frequencies of the electromagnetic radiation emitted from the subject’s body were recorded on an oscilloscope.
For the first time, the electro-physiological recordings described for centuries by psychics and healers as the 7 colors of the chakras were able to be connected to waveforms and bandwidths.
Rosalyn L. Bruyer, a trained engineer, worked 8 years on the UCLA study. She wrote extensively about their results in her book, Wheels of Light: Chakras, Auras, and the Healing Energy of the Body. “The primary colors were found to be red, yellow and blue correlating to the first, third, and fifth chakras. Their respective frequencies were waveforms with bandwidths of 640 to 800 Hertz (cycles per seconds), 400 to 600 Hertz, and 100 to 240 Hertz.
The patterns and sounds of the colors were also very distinct. Red waveforms demonstrated themselves as irregular groupings of short spikes and sounded like a siren.. Yellow resembled a smooth round sine wave and sounded like a musical tone, and blue had large sharp peaks and troughs with small deflections riding upon them. The color blue had a sound like a rumble.”
People are repelled from colors they have too much of in their aura. They are also drawn to colors they need in their aura.
For example, Yellow is a mental color. Research has shown if you study in a yellow room or take notes on a yellow pad you will have better test results.
Yellow is also the color of the third chakra where the body begins to move from the male energy of the first and second chakras into the feminine energy of the body. Not male and female as in sex, but as in the energy fields of the body.
Male energy is to conquer, compete, & to control. The Female energy is nurturing, balanced, doing things for the benefit of the greater good, empathy,compassion.
Each of us has both energies within us and we are at peace in the world and with others when they are in balance.
If your male energy is out of control, all you will care about is sex, making money and getting what you want. If you have lost your empathy for humanity, the earth, and other species, you will be repulsed by yellow.
Male energy manifests itself as an abundance of red and orange in the body.
On the other hand, if you are studying and learning full time, being forced to spend all of your time in the mental realms, you will be repulsed by yellow because your aura is flooded with it. You will probably crave purples for spiritual satisfaction, blue for creativity, or greens to awaken your heart.
Every society has its own cultural associations and stigma’s around color. Color conditioning can influence our choices also. With that said, by paying attention to the colors we are drawn to or repulsed by can inform us to what may be going on physically, mentally and emotionally with us.
Coming off the Women’s March and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, I would be remiss if I did not address the darker side of how female art models have been viewed and treated in history. As in all things professionally, there seems to be separate standards for men and women.
In Sarah Phillips book, The Modeling Life, she says, “Standing at a unique juncture–between nude and naked, between high and low culture, between art and pornography–the life model is admired in a finished sculpture, but scorned for her or his posing….”
She goes on to say, “throughout history, people have romanticized life models in an aura of bohemian eroticism, or condemned them as strippers or sex workers.”
San Francisco Bay Area Models like Carla Kandinsky became the face and body associated with The Bay Area Figurative Movement in the 60’s and modeled over 50 years. “It was before the feminist movement, before topless dancers had taken over San Francisco’s North Beach nightclub strip. It was far from respectable work. She feared telling people what she was doing for a living”.
When Carla Kandinsky was modeling at the San Francisco Art Institute she was approached about swimming topless in a large glass tank at Bimbo’s and to pose for nude photographs. She declined both. She said she realized art students did not see her as naked. It was form and shadows. It was like looking at a Coke Bottle.
Kandinsky wrote a poem once about her experience of modeling. In one poem she describes, “old men who draw their fantasies, making you years younger with thighs the likes of which you’ve never seen; cruel younger women wielding crayons like razor blades to hack lines deep into your face and draw the droop of breasts with merciless accuracy and older women dabbing in in delicate watercolors, their own lost youth and sex reflected in your painted eyes.”
Barbara Tooma modeled over 4 decades regularly with the California College of the Arts. In Peter Steinhart’s book, The Undressed Art, Why We Draw, Barbara tells us how often “artists project themselves onto the model without even realizing it.”
The Bay Area Models Guild was established 72 years ago by Florence Alan (a.k.a. Flo), herself an artists model over 47 years. Her face and body are familiar to fans of Diego Rivera, Wayne Thiebaud, and Joan Brown. Although Mrs. Alan died in the late 90’s, she left a legacy protecting models from work related risks. Both artists and artist models are screened heavily.
The Guild determines the length of time of poses, breaks, establishes guidelines for both the model and the atelier. Models must hold poses for long periods of time and return to those poses after breaks which is quite strenuous on the body. They must contend with the coldness of most studios and trespassers in university settings.
Art models are so linked with their painters that we can forget we are looking at real people. Chosen for their deportment and stamina as much as their face, models are chosen for their other worldly quality, sensuality, a look of intelligence, or attitude. An example of an “other worldly persona” would have to include the infamous Lizzie Siddel who was adored by the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood for her beautiful auburn hair.
Today’s artists often look for a model with attitude to reflect the feelings of women tired of being repressed financially, emotionally, physically and politically.
Pigeon Plumtree III is by far the most recognized female artist model in the USA. She is the embodiment of a 21st century woman of attitude. Even her name has attitude. She renamed herself after a Madeline Kahn character. In Road to Avonlea, Pigeon Plumtree was known for her beauty, fame, and selfishness. (Another woman with attitude).
Pigeon has been modeling for 19 years. A friend asked her to sit for her drawing class at a local senior center. “As soon as I settled into the quiet, and the stillness I fell in love. I can still remember the sound of the breeze through the trees and the birds outside. It was a magic place to find within yourself.”
A dancer and an artist by training, artist modeling was a natural evolution to her skills. She moved to New York and spent a decade immersed in modeling for art ateliers, established artists, and attending art openings. It was a long way from the non racially diverse small town in California’s Central Valley she had grown up in.
Painted, drawn, and sculpted by many of today’s leaders in Figurative Art, Pigeon has been the subject of Elizabeth Zanzinger, Sharon Sprung, Adam Miller, Zhaoming Wu, Marshal Jones, Oscar Peterson, Harvey Dinnerstein, Mario A. Robinson, Aaron Coberly, and Judith Peck among many others. Several have given her practice sketches or other work of herself over the years. Although Pigeon prefers collecting the Gallery Announcement Cards that features work she is in, she is partial to a small bronze sculpture gifted her by an sculptor she posed for. She feels great gratitude that after years of modeling she can find her work reflected in books, galleries and museums.
I initially contacted Pigeon about writing this article shortly after the second San Francisco Womens March. We both live in the Bay Area and she is such a recognizable face in contemporary art it felt important to include her. Like women across the nation, we discussed our #metoo feelings and experiences and how they have impacted our professions.
Pigeon shared how she was sexually assaulted by a well known atelier student in Seattle several years ago. It was a 4 week pose. The painting she sat for is now well known and that student now is very well known. The original atelier was very professional and she met many artists she worked with for years. Like all women, we are learning to process our anger but not shoot ourselves in the foot professionally. We want to protect others from what we have been through. It only takes one drop of ink to darken a glass of water.
Pigeon told me that over the last two years she has been phasing out any nude modeling for her own reasons. We both love human anatomy and love the endless blocks of shapes and shadows the nude is capable of.
As an artist I can tell you a body is never the same two days in a row, nor in the afternoon is it the same body it was in the morning. It is one of the most beautiful and challenging subjects for an artist to duplicate. We also discussed our growing unease with how nudes are mis-used in a social media context.
Pigeon eventually removed any nudes featured in artwork from her social media pages. Sometimes poses that are not sexual become sexualized in another form by others. Pigeon and I have both have received creepy friendship invites from around the world from people who were seeing something different in the art that was posted. She as an artist model, and me, for the work I paint, but also for the figurative artists stream I curate and write about.
I asked Judith what quality Pigeon has as a model that makes her paint her over and over? “ Pigeon represents every woman and I can project emotion with her body language and expressions”.
Artist models, in the hands of the right artist, can be immortalized through their work. They become the silent voice for the time they live in. Pigeon is one of our voices.
We left our conversation in the mutual hope that society as a whole will evolve out of the sexualization of women. Over the next 8-10 years perhaps girls with selfies will stop turning themselves into masturbation fodder for boys, that toy dolls will not be designed look like hookers. Social Media has created a distortion of our purist creative endeavors.
In North America there is a romanticized image of the professional artist’s model. Movies and books are inclined to feed that image by projecting sexy nymphets and oversexed painters. The reality is modeling requires intense concentration in addition to immense physical and emotional control.
Artist’s models are not the same as a photographer’s model. Cameras are forbidden in a drawing class. Also, if the model is to be nude you must book a life model or a figure model rather than an artist’s model. Asking specifically for an artist’s model tells the agency or guild the model will be clothed.
As a painter and sculptor for 35 years, I can attest there is nothing sexual when we work from a live model. A drawing class collectively pays a model to master their skills in anatomy. An inexperienced model will charge $20.00 to $30.00 an hour and a skilled model is often twice that. Privately, we are trying to capture as much down on paper before the light changes or the model gives out.
Art modeling is demanding. Models must know how to transition into a hundred classic poses. Holding the position for long periods is not easy. Think how hard it is to hold a yoga pose. Temperature is a factor: it can get cold at times and at others the lights can get quite hot, or at least hot enough to make them sweat.
There are three categories of poses: Standing, Seated, and Reclining. Poses are held 5 to 20 minutes. Longer poses are reserved for the more experienced model, as the body can cramp. Poses that expend more energy, such as the asymmetrical contrapposto or standing twists, are also reserved for the experienced model.
Models at modern ateliers are sitting for the best and the brightest talent in the world.
One of the most recognizable San Francisco Bay area artist models is John A. Carrasco. Coveted for his soulful eyes, the silver beard of Dumbledore, and his illustrated limbs, he is immediately recognizable in drawings, paintings and sculpture. John is a legend to museums, artists and academics.
That’s quite a Who’s Who of painters, and I know there are many more. I post many contemporary figurative artists on my twitter.com/Uridev stream and I’m sure many people have come to recognize many of these artists through my posts.
Most Ateliers, Academy of Art and other Universities have me listed.
You’ve been modeling full time now a few years, have you become friends with any of the artists you pose for?
I believe artists and models develop a connection either figurative or portraiture.
Are you surprised by anything revealed in the artwork about yourself that you never realized as seen through someone else’s eyes?
Yes I was, very humbled by it.
A good studio model can become immortalized in history. Paintings will last 400 years or more whereas film deteriorates; digital photos are ephemeral, and singers become forgotten. The face and the body of an artist’s model lives on through the work.