They were showing La Belle Noiseuse at the Siskel and I couldn’t resist. Four hours of a weird old painter trying to recapture his fire by painting a beautiful young woman and the repercussions her posing for him had on everyone dear to them. This is my idea of good way to spend an afternoon.
When Jacques Rivette’s movie came out in 1991, I was drawing or painting nudes a few times a week in school. It was like a superhero version of my everyday. I think I went to see it three times at least. I loved the real-time slowness of it even while cringing at Frenhoffer’s absurd, pompous pronouncements. I wanted to live in a crumbling French villa with Jane Birkin wandering barefoot through its countless rooms like he did.
Twenty-seven years later I no longer wanna live in a French vila and, as a middle-aged man, the decades-long conflict between Frenhoffer and his wife read very differently than they did when I was in my early twenties. But the artist-model scenes brought back how much I’ve missed drawing and painting naked people.
So a few days after seeing the movie I found a drop-in figure drawing session online, bought some newsprint and cheap drawing paper and showed up at a loft building on Hubbard at the appointed time. I haven’t drawn in a room full of others drawing in twenty-five years yet it all started coming back to me within minutes of dragging an easel to a spot and glancing around at the other arrivers. There’s a unique ritual thing that every artist does while setting up their gear. They fuss about how far this thing is from that thing, pace around, move things around again, then finally settle in.
From the casual conversation I overheard it was obvious most of the others were regulars. Someone turned on a boombox and the guy in charge said there were PBRs in the fridge for a dollar a pop. He reminded everyone to throw $10 in the pail for the two-and-a-half-hour session. Then a thin blonde walked up to the model stand in the middle of all the easels and chairs, took off her robe, and struck the first of about ten one-minute poses.
It all came back. That thing of reckoning with a body through charcoal marks on newsprint. I was sixteen the first time I did this; now I’m forty-seven but it’s the same as it was back then. There were no masterpieces made this night but it didn’t matter. The girl drawing in a chair to my left turned out to be a bartender at Soho House. She’d gone to SAIC for awhile and was planning to go back to school for medical illustration. She said she loved the Skylark and I invited her to come visit me there some Sunday. Maybe she’ll come by, maybe she won’t. I told her I’d never go to Soho House and she completely understood.
Being in that loft space for a few hours, drawing that girl, brought home how much I’d missed it. I won’t wait another twenty-five years to do it again.