Open Studio artists shoot the photographer before drawing and painting him as he poses motionless in a comfy chair.
the threads of friends
weave the tapestry
of our lives.
My friend Rachel asked me to pose for her Open Studio visual artists gathering at University of Illinois Springfield (UIS). Others we know had been afforded the honor: Tom Irwin, Russel Brazzel . . . . who knows how many others? She had seen my “performance” at Vachel Lindsay’s birthday party November 7 and engaged each other in happy repartee at the Springfield Classical Guitar Society concert when she mentioned the Open Studio. Her e-mails to her visual artist friends mailing list also came to me, the timely reminder of the commitment, a few days before the gathering.
I took a third Saturday off from working in the Rock City showroom, but that concerned me less than it might have in summer when I had my upstairs duplex vacant, and despite contributing to my favorite business newspaper, I needed every dollar I could earn, even if I didn’t know how many weeks would transpire before I’d be paid in part. Previous Saturdays, I had opted off to sing and recite at Vachel’s birthday, then to show a part of my old airplane model kit collection at Illinois State Museum’s Collectors’ Day. Open Studio, I figured would be icing on a layer cake of bountiful Saturdays.
It was. Though I’m not a painter or a drawer, I am learning photographer who gets a lucky shot now and then. I’m passable as a photo/journalist to the extent I’ve been paid for photos I’ve taken for articles I’ve written. Though I may not make a living from any of it, I know what works, and I like to think that I have a visual artist’s mind. Posing for Rachel and her friends would allow me to be the kind of subject I thought a subject should be. My feel for the task proved on the mark.
We encountered each other as I was walking toward the Visual Arts Building from the back parking lot and Rachel was coming out to bring in some items from her car. While they set up the studio, I visited the UIS student gallery.
It was as interesting as the other Springfield galleries I’ve visited with just a touch more neophyte evident in technique, though the talent came out like thunder.
When I entered at Rachel’s beckoning call, I was introduced to the artists who had arrived while I wandered the gallery. One (Jan) was a warm and familiar face who told me my Gallery Harvest photo gallery at Facebook had connected her to a friend she hadn’t seen in 30 years. That meant alot to me, considering she appears just a tad overe 25 years old. Another (Ellen) was an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in 10 years or so. She’s now a friend. The others were as new to me as I to them.
A comfortably upholstered chair upon a carpeted riser had been placed front and center in the studio, and I was asked to sit. The seven artists — a good turnout I was told — were positioned in a semi circle around me at their easels a and tables. We discussed what kind of pose was needed for the first effort, about a 20 minute session. Jan noted I often “played” with my beard; could I do something with a hand in my chin whiskers? Sure. That’s the reason I have a beard: to think. I don’t know how I made it through high school without one. I assumed a pose with my left hand pulling on part of the beard, an easy stance I thought, to hold for the 20 minutes planned for the first one. Then the artists came forward with their digital cameras and started taking pictures. Dear dear, I felt like such an OBJECT! <– JUST KIDDING! There was convivial patter leading up to putting the brush to paper, but once they began there was almost no conversation among the artists and even less from artist to poser until time was called. Very impressive.
The music Rachel had selected to play in the background was perfect for the task, contemplative and relaxing but not dull. I’m used to posing for acappella choir when I sang an entire concert with my eyes on the director, almost never diverting my eyeballs to see if I recognized anyone on the audience. It was a matter of being professional. But it’s one thing to stand and sing, and it was a surprise to learn the importance of maintaining the total pose, to be sure than the fourth and fifth finger of my right hand remained in a “V” on the corner of the right arm of the chair. At first I tried not to blink my eyes, even though sometimes a tear would form and run down the low cheek. In later poses, I blinked more frequently but always held my pupils directed to a point in the room. During the first session it was the upper left corner of Jan’s paper on her easel. It was hard not to look at Jan, but I sensed that would make her uncomfortable, and 99 percent of the time, I was focused on that corner.
There was a break after about 20 minutes and I was invited off the platform to look at the works created if the artists would permit a glance, and most did. There was more convivial conversation. Rachel passed out vanilla wafers to the artists who wanted them. I declined because I pose better without any more weight under my belt than necessary.
Before the second pose, I was asked to play guitar and sing some of my songs and share some poems. THAT was probably why I agreed to pose! The artists remained at their stations with busy hands sketching and painting. But I was free to walk from side to side, make gestures when reciting poems — mostly Vachel and some Job — and it was great fun. The second pose was a breeze, probably a little longer than 20 minutes, maybe less, it didn’t matter. I felt “in my element,” I wanted to be as professional as anyone posing in a New York City or Paris studio. I spent most of the time taking in the subtle action taking place in front of me with an active mind, blinking seldom, tearing often, and glad to be there. For the second pose my arms were more akimbo and my legs crossed and eyes locked onto the glare of the back of a metal chair about halfway back into the studio. Toward the end of time alloted, I was invited to move out of the pose to loosen my limbs, but I remarked “Everything is fine, My bones are calcifying and fusing nicely where they are. No big deal.” and everyone knew I was okay. There was no significant discomfort or pain, though my hands began to lose circulation and “go to sleep” toward the end. It was also interesting to return to standing off the riser. I felt I had spent a week in zero gravity in earth orbit, and it took a two or three minutes to get my legs back.
Again I was invited to look at what the artists had created, and I was amazed. I was concerned with not being overly enthusiastic, but when I saw what artist Marie had done, I asked her permission to photograph her work if I promised never to use it for commercial purposes. She smilingly assented. I also photographed her with it, and other pictures were taken as well, know that the need for attention to the art was behind us.
It was a terrific Saturday afternoon! Kudos and thanks to the mom and daughter whose names I have forgotten (please forgive), Bill, Doug, Jan, Ellen and Rachel for the privilege I shall savor forever.
Live long . . . . . and proper.
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