The last time I was at the Art Students League it had seemed a matter of life and death that I, starting so relatively late in life, get far enough into this visual world so that in my next fifty years I could bring actual figures to life. It was more than a symbol of what I was after - getting actual embodied women and men right in ways I had not done, though had sometimes approached in words, in my first fifty years.
This first time around in visual, as opposed to verbal, worlds - when life was starting again. Living alone in Chelsea in a bright one-bedroom apartment I had found in a time I was sleeping on couches and in borrowed places and furnished rooms - this place of my own now that backed out over a small garden that had gone wild, with a tree by the window that one visitor dismissed as a weed pretending to be a tree but that to me was all the tree I needed. And out past the tree, a cityscape, rooftops with old cylindrical wooden water towers that continued on south as far as I could see -
I had gotten rid of my new bed and lined the bedroom walls with wide heavy shelves I installed myself - never handy with such things until now when I had to be - shelves to hold my drawings and painting that were not on the walls, and my supplies - newsprint pads, watercolor blocks, canvases, bristol board, boxes of colored pencils, pastels, oil and water soluble crayons, tubes of intense watercolors and tubes for deep if not quite so intense oils and acrylics. And I went to meetings, and I was at the league drawing from life early each morning, and by midnight I was in a Soho basement where multiple models posed, still drawing, my eyes shifting from the models to the pad, trying for whatever I was worth to bring figures to life. To life, and into this life of mine that had begun - again or at last.
Twenty years later I had a calling and a new career and I lived with a woman I loved in rare harmony - so unlike past marriage - and there are people inside as well as outside our place, where I live in the country and look out on a mountain - a real mountain, that can blend with but not be confused with the mountains of my often dark, but sometimes full, New Hampshire childhood and adolescence. Twenty years later - and it is time to start working from the naked body again.
Starting late, I had been deep into anatomy in my Chelsea apartment and at the art schools and in a dissection room too, for I had to get these figures right. I understood what it meant to say "My life depends on this."
I had stopped writing back then, 20 years ago, not sure what I could live on, for I had always written, as opposed to holding jobs. But writing was failing me and images were saving me. I did not know yet how tied this all was to getting the written versions, not just the visual versions, right. I slept on a day bed not yet cleared of drawing implements. Every inch of wall space here in the living room, as in the former bedroom, contained drawings and diagrams. I had a plaster copy of Houdon¹s pointing man, the man with no skin and all his muscles displayed. And I had a plaster hand. And a plastic life-size skull. And
also an undersize skeleton that looked almost real. I was in negotiations with a squeaky-voiced man buried deep in the Natural History Museum who, underground
networks in art and medical worlds knew, imported real skeletons illegally from
I had to get the real figures - the flesh and blood ones not just on the model stands but also those in my head - the real figures, not just the anatomical diagrams of them, the real figures, not the figures of the past that I could make into literary devices, but the real figures that might or might not be in my life. I had to get these figures right. So I drew from dawn to midnight.
And suddenly I am back. Writing now, but also taking breaks from writing and a break from abstract painting to join a studio figure group at the Woodstock School of Art, and look in on the open figure drawing sessions in the League when I am in the city - and also, although Joe in his dirty undershirt who had the night and day Soho basement place on Greene Street is gone, there is a new woman named Minerva on the scene who has models posing morning, noon and night on Spring Street. And although I am not drawing from dawn to midnight now, I need these places again, to move with what I am doing in my writing now, in my life now, this life-and-death search again to recreate the actual embodied figures to save them and me from embalmment in past or present.