Artists’ model for a day: Her stint at Hyde Face-Off event
By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
Sometimes working here at The Chronicle affords us unique opportunities.
Such was the case last week, when the Hyde Collection invited this writer to be one of two models for its second annual “Art Battle” — this year, a friendly paint-off between 12 regional portrait artists they dubbed a “Face Off.”
You can see the results in the Hoopes Gallery at the museum, and even still vote for your favorite to be “Master of the Portraits,” now through September 8. Info: 792-1761.
My humble contribution? Sit still.
Turns out, you learn a lot doing so.
First, just this: Holding one position over two-plus hours, in 30 minute stints with five minute breaks is a massive challenge.
I made a tactical error.
At the start, given I know nothing about how these things work, I asked the six artists in my room what they wanted.
“Whatever,” was their unhelpful response. I was already perched on the chair, casual as we spoke, one ankle slung over a thigh, half cross-legged.
“Well, then, is just this okay?”
“Sure,” they said.
Eighteen minutes in, and the blood was no longer circulating in my top leg.
Let’s just say, I made good use of the Zen breathing I’ve learned in yoga classes. And tried not to cry.
My artists were much more concerned about the light than my leg.
Arranging me was not of much interest, but, before the work even began, they collaborated for maybe 12 minutes, rigging a spotlight on a broomstick stuck into the back of a chair, getting the height and angle just right so my face and shoulder would be burning all night under a blast of hot white light.
Never mind the model’s leg is screaming and her bottom has fallen so deeply asleep that holding the spine and shoulders straight have become an effort of grave physical strength. It was when the light set-up started sagging that the artists jumped in to the rescue — resetting that failing broomstick with deep concern.
Ah. But that’s the gig.
‘Don’t look at me’
You’d think, being at the center of the room, that it’s about you.
That was a thrill and a fear, going in. I hate being looked at. There’s a reason I write for a living, is my joke.
Pushing my comfort zone was exactly why I said yes when new Hyde educator Jenny Hutchinson invited me to do this.
You learn quickly, it’s exactly not about being seen.
No one looks at a great Sargent painting or a Mary Cassatt, a Degas or a Rembrandt and thinks — wow, the artist sure made that painting look like the model.
You see Cassatt’s broad strokes and wild colors, Rembrandt’s dark eye, Sargent’s monumental long elegance, Degas’s fine hand and the quirky way he turns a tutu’d waist. That is as it should be.
What the artists made
On the other side, just from the tiny slice I got to experience — yes, there is a connection between artist and model.
Artist Joanne Vella of Skidmore College was most directly in my line of vision, though mostly what I was doing was staring off to a focal point out of the basement Arts Studio window.
Joanne and I mind-melded in a way that had us both pretty excited by the end of the night. She made two pieces, both crumply charcoals with dark energy.
John Hampshire of SUNY Adirondack and Troy, I could see peripherally as he swayed back and forth a stroke at a time, super-studious.
His piece turned out by far not flattering but exquisitely hyper-real, moody and energetic and beautiful for that. Tony Iadiciccio of Albany, he hid behind the canvas, popping out humorously with bright laughing eyes just every now and then.
His oil painting is exotic, ancient, stratified with earthy colors and topped with gold leaf, Egyptian looking.
When another artist apologized after she planted herself in his line of vision, Tony was fine: “I’m not looking at her anyway.”
Harumph, I thought.
There were Betsy Krebs’ wild-stroked color blasts, Anthony Richichi’s elfin drawing so otherworldly and magical, Corey Pitkin’s most-true portrait, rendered in such soft brushstrokes it feels like love.
His, by the bye, had a small lead in the voting, as of Tuesday. That is unreasonably gratifying.
My colleague in stillness was young John “Anthime” Miller, the musician and local Green Party director. He sat upstairs in the Hoopes Gallery, dressed in black, barefoot, leaning on his cello.
Where I was a blank the artists built from, Anthime inspired some fiercely powerful portraits. One by Liz Parsons I especially like. It is so strongly wrought that even with an empty face you feel his presence, and hers.
Some drama, even
There was some drama, when artists got in each other’s way or when one used some sort of fixative that nearly asphyxiated the guy at the next canvas.
Mostly, the artists were friendly but intense. The room was quiet, yet there was joy to it. Nearly no one talked to me, not even during breaks, interestingly, until it was all over. You really are the empty center.
For all my joking about that, I get it.
What I wanted most desperately was to do a good job, to be useful, to sit still well, make it easy for the artists.
I didn’t know what that would entail, going in. That thing about my leg hurting? After the first stint, when it looked like everyone was just doing me from the shoulders up, I asked — could I move the leg down for the next sit?
One artist felt pretty strongly that any move would shift the sway of my hips and spine so — no, stay and suffer. Okay. That’s what I signed on for. It’s not about me.
For everyone else: A party
Meanwhile, much was happening while I stared out the window at my focal point, Zen breathing.
There was beer and there were artsy games. There was socializing, and people wandering around the easels, watching the works in progress.
Yes, friends, a substantial and enthusiastic crowd of more than 100 people paid cash money, essentially to watch paint dry.
Turns out, that can make for a fun night. It was buzzy then, and the aftermath on Facebook was explosive.
The museum sees such events as a continuation of Charlotte Hyde’s mission to make art accessible to all the community, Ms. Hutchinson said. She declined to say whether this “Face Off” was also successful as a fund-raiser.
It does bring out a markedly younger crowd, a coup by any measure.
For me, sitting still in a chair for the better part of a night, it was — well, it was quietly exciting, educational, and a genuine privilege to be of service.
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