Wednesday, July 08, 2009

It's getting embarrassing in the Life Class!

I think I'm beginning to think that whoever organised Life Class should have made a bit more effort.
Gary Hume, a graduate of Goldsmiths renowned for his paintings of simplified forms, was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1996 and represented Britain at the 1999 Venice Biennale. He was made a Royal Academician in 2001. His subject is fashion model Kirsten Varley, who had never sat for a life drawing before this visit to Gary's London studio.
Kirsten Varley - Life Class with Gary Hume RA, Channel 4
pencil on heavy cartridge paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Today's class had Gary Hume RA as a tutor and one got the distinct impression that he doesn't do much life drawing (who has a completely untouched drawing board in a working studio?). He normally produces very simplified and very flat paintings. In principle, his approach to drawing should have been interesting. In reality it became embarassing for both him and for us. Do I mind making this sort of comment about an Royal Academician who shows his work at White Cube? No - he's a professional artist and I assume he knew what he was letting himself in for.

It was certainly a good example of the fact that when drawing from life it's very easy to make a hash of it.

Especially if you've not drawn a lot or haven't practised doing drawing from life on camera (while being watched by an awful lot of people on television)!

One of the weaknesses in this episode was the fact his model was a young lady who's a fashion model. This was the very first time she had posed for a life drawing and my goodness did it show! Not that I blame her in any way - it's a very demanding job!

I've a huge respect for professional life models and it's a great pity that Channel 4 and the people who are organising this series didn't make more of an effort to make sure that they only used professional life models. Professionals know which poses cause what sorts of problems and how to avoid/manage them. In this instance, the model struck a pose which is difficult to sustain unless you know a bit more how to distribute your weight so you don't cut off the circulation of blood! I wasn't in the least bit surprised when her posture started to alter and she had to keep moving her hand to keep the blood flowing!

His attitude when she returned to her pose and it wasn't quite the same was to adopt a "that's one of those things you have to cope with". Oh no it's not! In a proper class both model and tutor would know to put down sticky tape to mark her position before she left it!

The simple fact of the matter is that a good model really makes a difference in a life drawing class. An inexperienced model (or tutor) rarely makes things easy for the artist. I really don't think either professional models or working life tutors would be very pleased with the impression of a life class that was given in today's class.

The worst bit was it became very apparent that he knew he'd got his drawing wrong. It started with groaning and moaning and got worse. To give credit where it's due he was very open about the fact that it was going wrong and didn't make any attempt to defend it. At the end he announced that he was abandoning it and starting again. I rather suspect that he hoped that it would be the second one that was used for the class on TV!

Now as a lesson in the fact that things can and do go wrong in life class, this was an admirable effort. Whether it helped to teach anybody about how to draw is very debateable.

Here's a tip on life drawing from Gary Hume from the beginning of the class. The irony is certainly not lost on me!
In order to look you need to relax and to relax you've not got to worry about getting things wrong
Here are the links for the rest of this week.
My drawings can be be found in Life Class, Channel 4. I've had to remove the link to the Group Pool as the drawings are not being moderated and the Group Admin appears to be asleep.

Plus I've now moved A Making A Mark Guide: Life Drawing and Life Class to my Making A Mark website. You can now read it on the website without downloading it.

Making a Mark reviews......


Felicity House said...

Absolutely agree Katherine ! a lovely body to draw but oh dear - no knowledge of how to pose for drawing. I managed several attempts - each one different !!
great to have the opportunity of practising from the TV . Always think the model is the most important person in the Life Room .. unfortunately people assume modelling is an easy thing to do - just sitting still ! but its a tremendously difficult job that requires great skill .

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

What was he thinking?

Anonymous said...

Good for you, saying it as it is. And isn't it typical of channel 4 to turn everything into a big brother type programme rather than an opportunity to teach drawing... is that not the purpose of the series?
I have suffered models who don't cooperate with you despite them doing it for aliving eg i want to read while i'm modeling and you say well, okay... and the head moves and the eyes move with the lines and the page change, and guess who's paying her fee?
or another model who decided to tell jokes to amuse us!! there was one whose beard covered his whole face and wouldn't let us shave it off, well, i guess you can't be right all the time:)

Making A Mark said...

I think that's why good professional models are so much in demand! :)

Sarah said...

my thoughts exactly, I just caught the programme today by luck and was appalled by the lack of tuition, the poor lass who obviously had done very little life moddeling and the really awful drawing skills of the artist.
I used to teach life drawing and a good model makes all the difference.

Anonymous said...


Whilst I agree with most of your comments, Im afraid that I must disagree with the general gist.
Yes - the model was inexperienced, but then you gain experience through posing - you learn not to adopt certain poses, which ones will cause you pain !
True - the model IS the most important person in the life class & so if they are uncomfortable, they should move.
And so this points to Gary Hume's inexperience at life drawing - he would know that the pose would cause problems and advise the model against it...
But it seems to me that the whole point of the show is to show the general public the whole range of emotions. successes and failures that are experienced in a life class.
From the sublime eloquence of Maggi Hambling to the abject failure of Gary Hume.
And I say - good on him for letting us see that !
It takes bravery to let someone see you fall.
For me, the whole point of the programme is to encourage people to draw - regardless of failure.
Try and try again ?!

As for the comments on big brother and shaving his beard off - please let me know when that life class is happening....

Artydave said...

Katherine, I was more impressed by Gary Hume's complete inability to draw than by deficiencies in the model...typically for TV, they'd simply opted for someone who was easy on the eye but even if rigor mortis had set in and she had been preternaturally still, Hume would still have made an awful hash of it. Ingres he ain't! But then, who is? But you would have thought they could have found a competent draughtsman at the very least. It was so cringe-makingly awful at the end, I burst out laughing!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous post Katherine! life drawing session gone wrong is an excellent drawing gone wild lol.
Beleave me they absolutely do. Sometimes there are just those days that the artist is off. I remember times we're I'm just not feeling up for it or I go in and there happens to be an ugly model or a model with vary awkward proportions and features and just don't have my groove on and it goes sour.
Maybe I will blog about some of my stories of life-drawing gone wrong or something one day.

I don't watch tv anymore. I was wondering what television network plays this life-drawing program you write about? That's some quality programming. Last I checked, I couldn't find anything but garbage on television.

Anonymous said...

Whoooops! When I asked about what programming on tv shows life-drawing, I forgot that your from the UK. Unfortunately here in the U.S. television is pure trash. It must be a lot better there.

Making A Mark said...

A few more comments from me - which I think I might also include in today's (Thursday) post....but just in case I don't....

I'm quibbling with the word 'CLASS' in 'Life Class'

If the word was 'drawing' as in 'life drawing' then the issues about the model and the tutor yesterday would have been more incidental.

However the programme is billed thus

"This week-long series gives viewers an opportunity to learn to draw through five half-hour nude life drawing classes, one a day, with access to a renowned artist tutor in each."

The point is that these classes are about learning to draw - facilitated by a tutor - somebody who knows how to teach and what's required of models in a teaching situation.

Besides having regard for the life model as a professional we also need to have regard for the profession of teaching.

While any artist as an individual can choose to draw anybody willing to sit for him or her, in a class you expect professional models to be used. They are an integral and very important part of the whole learning process.

Similarly, let's not underestimate the importance of teaching as a profession. You can't teach adults in a publicly funded adult education class now unless you're qualified to do so.

So why not use a tutor who is both qualifield and used to teaching adults and used to talking to people who are learning how to draw? Just because the RA says you're a good artist doesn't make you a good teacher! More to the point I can't find anything which suggests Hume has ever been a tutor. (Can I be clear here I'm not having a go at Hume per se - more having a go at Channel 4 and the people who made these films for not using the slot better.)

Having said that I do certainly it's very good for people to see how we all fail from time to time when making drawings. (It's always been my experience that people share their failures in life class. In a good life class everybody learns that everybody fails from time to time)

But please let's see failure for the right reasons (eg not looking carefully enough) and not because we're using a model who's not used to modelling and a "tutor" who's not used to life drawing.

In other words let's see why a proper life class can be a helpful and supportive place to go and learn about life drawing - and experience failure!

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