Tuesday, May 1, 2007

THE PAINTED WORD VIII - Nude in Clothing

Since there was always something doing at that time - all the comings and goings in my bright place in Chelsea where I drew and painted, and in all the open drawing studios around town, and the meetings and the classes....

It was the only time in my more than 50 years, with the possible exception of a brief time in English classes in my teens, that I had seen any appeal to anything that went on in a classroom, could see anything in a classroom that I could not get better from books ­ this time now in these studios with the models and the skeletons and often formidable instructor/artists who drew and painted alongside you -­ the first time I every saw why anyone would want to be in any kind of school.

In Barbara Adrian¹s evening class at the League, it turned out a cheerful red-headed model was a Julliard student who aspired to opera and musical theater. In one 20-minute pose she sang Mozart, and in another stood winsomely holding onto a suitcase while doing a full scene from Pal Joey.

One night I drew in the Adrian class at an easel beside that of my favorite actor, Peter Falk, who spent his days at the League when he was not on the coast making movies. The afternoon of the first night he came he had just returned from California, and so kept dashing around the big old French Renaissance building, checking everything, rushing up and down the stairways, snooping out each studio. He was known to cause near violent scenes if an instructor failed to show or was even late, both being rare here -­ which was just the opposite of student reaction I knew until thirty years back when I had decided to never enter a classroom again.

Life had never been more full, this time drawing and painting, which I had not known I could do, this time freed not just from writing but from all the linear stories I had lived by, my own and those I had followed unintentionally -­ such as those about my very correct, overly correct, family. I was traveling into the landscape of my life - to places this year far more dangerous than anything I had known in Africa or Southeast Asia. The neo-Victorian version of an often pompous family I had maintained had changed into a story of family figures who should, I thought now, be in prison for what they had done to those who followed them, the girl, Cousin Ellen, fucked and beaten by her brother and now in a battered woman¹s shelter for which they blamed her on grounds she was too appealing -­ or Cousin Mary who had just hung herself, or Cousin Harry, the one who had done the sister fucking ­- dead in a motorcycle accident that looked like suicide too -­ and the drugged up ones like Cousin Martin, or the other dead ones, like Cousin Margaret, worked over so thoroughly in their Tudor house in Scarsdale and suddenly dead a year ago of sudden leukemia just as she said she wanted to die.

I thought of Margaret now, for she had been here at the League a few years back and they had said that was typical, to go to a school that had no standards. They had talked about this talented and vibrant and daring girl much, I knew, as they talked about me. And I was angry. These killers.

But I was surrounded by many other sorts of people now, different form family and different from all the colorful figures I had chosen in the past because they seemed so unlike family. It made me remember being surrounded by people in all those exotic places and feeling desperately lonely, whether in or out of marriages or less binding relationships. I wondered if perhaps I was lonely even now that everything was different and everything was changing -­ this happiest time I knew. A recent marriage was over. So too my affair with the photo agent Alice, and so too, before it started, with the photographer Marlene. Now I myself had art, and all these people.

Sometimes instructors suggested that before you draw an object you should run your hand over it. The implication seemed obvious that this applied to figure drawing too. Ironic, I thought, that I should be doing figure drawing at a time when I had no such relationships going.

I was thinking about this as I went through the break in the stone wall at the edge of Columbus Circle, and walked onto the lawn beside the rock hill, the lawn where, now fully clothed, she was walking.

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