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Morning musings: May, 2024


            He waited patiently in the hallway until the last student left, then quietly entered the studio.  Speaking formally and slowly, he introduced himself as an experienced life model, newly arrived in Montreal and seeking work. He was a tall man with hair pulled back into a short ponytail, and his facial features were starkly linear and geometric. I hired him to pose for me, and noticed that he:
-  was punctual (one star);
-  appeared natural and at ease with his body - both clothed and nude (two stars);
-  took interesting poses (three stars); and
-  had a good sense of humour (four stars).
             M was the thinnest model I had ever worked with, and his attenuated body exposed his bones and muscles making them visibly understandable.  Like an experienced dancer, he had a fluid manner of posing - easing in and out of positions smoothly - never abruptly.  M was as engaged and challenged by modelling as I was by teaching, and the collaboration yielded excellent results for our classes. I gave him minimal direction - explaining the objective of the session, and knowing he was inventive and spontaneous.  In our best classes, a clothed M would lead students around a building or landscape, then stop and pose next to objects or within settings.  The participants never knew how long the poses would last or what was coming next.  These ‘unknowns’ necessitated a sharp focus and sense of urgency in the sketchers, so they worked excitedly, pushing the limits of their design skills and enjoying the surprises.
             I periodically hired Murray for odd jobs since he was a competent handyman, gardener and mover-of-stuff.  Many art models are creative survivors - people who for various reasons prefer to exist on the parameters of conventional society feeling a sense of liberty and control over their lives, despite low earnings. Consequently, models share a lifestyle similar to artists who also have chosen to invent their own lives(many artists model to enhance their incomes).  When possible, I hire models(these underpaid and financially struggling souls) for miscellaneous work and recommend them to others.  They are reliable and exhibit a multitude of skill sets: construction/demolition, editing/translation, accounting, cooking/catering, child-minding, house-sitting, gardening/landscaping, housecleaning, chauffeuring, caregiving/nursing and more.
             Murray and I worked together in Montreal for 5 years, with him posing for my classes and for me in my studio.  I recall a December afternoon at Marché Jean-Talon, when I heard a familiar voice calling out: Lucie, please come out of there.  Murray was trying to coax his young daughter out of the Christmas tree forest, where she was hiding under some boughs.  I approached and saw him lying on his stomach in the snow, trying to extricate a small angel, by her foot, from under a large tree.  Eventually, he hauled out a child of 4 or 5 years old with a curly halo of blond hair, and a determination to stay put. The existence of Lucie, and M’s caring attentiion to her added a small part to my growing picture of Murray.
              I felt a loss when he moved back to Toronto, but, as a parting gift, he introduced me to the administrators of the Haliburton School of the Arts, south of the Muskoka region of Ontario, where he frequently modelled. Subsequently, I taught summer workshops at the school for 10 years, and when possible, requested Murray as my model.  On periodic visits to Toronto, we would meet for Chinese food and a talk. M had a formality and measured slowness of speech that kept me listening attentively when he spoke.  Although his slow manner of communication might be misunderstood by the impatient, he was intelligent and perceptive, and his considered delivery of speech was worth the waiting.  He frequently gave me CDs with selections of music he had taped for my studio or classes - generally compilations of jazz and blues, and, he introduced my ears to some local Toronto musicians, such as Lenny Breau.  
                Murray was a trained and competent musician, and the first time I heard him play I was surprised to find him performing in a Klezmer band.  He played his guitar masterfully with his head held down, exhibiting his usual stoic demeanour, then, in an occasional heated moment, he would lift his head and loudly hoot out an unexpected “Oy” and sing along in Anglo-Yiddish.  I was astounded at this new manifestation of M - usually such a reserved, modest and whitish person, and I was reminded of what I don’t know about someone and how much more there is to learn.
                 A unique intimacy can form and grow between artists and models - a closeness, unlike physical manifestations of sexuality.  In art classes and artists’ studios, models work exposed - scrutinized with focused intensity by people working safe distances away. Often nude(and thus vulnerable) in impersonal and unnatural contexts, female models are particularly vulnerable to immature artists, who frequently confuse proximity and nudity with sexual opportunity.
              After hours of intensive visual searching, however, a unique connection can occur between the artist who views and the model who is viewed.  Hour upon hour, year upon year, I have looked deeply at certain souls in this manner, and come to know their physical qualities by memory.  But what of their inner being?  What degree of knowing is achieved from this platonic intimacy, and why is it possible with so few models?  After slow consideration(thanks M), I consider that a deeper connection can occur when a courageous model bares thenselves physically, but also opens up a small personal space to an artist they trust.  Those artists, who value and respect them - in a moment of privileged closeness - step into this space.
             And so it goes, M, you will be missed by the thousands of people with whom you worked, and Valerie(Lucie’s Mother), and Lucie and Marja(Murray’s daughters). My life and art were certainly enriched by meeting you, salut.  Murray Mackay(1944-2024).

© joanna nash
Shelburne, NS, 2024


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