The relationship between a
female painter and her models
As part of our Womxn’s Month program, Eclectica Contemporary is pleased to announce the opening of Alice Toich: The relationship between a female painter and her models. Alice Toich opens a conversation honouring the relationship between the artist and model in her work and historically.
I have been reflecting on the very personal relationship I have had with womxn over the past year in my art education journey: namely my fellow painters and my female models. Most of whom were artists themselves. I completed 7 week-long figure studies from life with Sylvia and Frederica as models. They are also artists, a visual artists and dancer respectively. I felt this had a HUGE impact on what they were able to channel into our sessions – both being comfortable with the idea of their bodies, and approaching the model sessions as powerful pieces of performance. The idea of the female body in constant performance is a rich and multi-layered discussion, which I often internally explore while painting and through discussions. I am a big believer in the idea of empathising with the person you are aiming to capture in paint – be it a portrait sitter or figure model. Being female-identifying myself, it was much easier to empathise and therefore relate into paint, the female models I worked with.
Overcoming what one might expect are the mental and emotional barriers to stand nude in front of a class full of male and female strangers for weeks on end, are really only the beginnings to the challenges that live modelling entails. I discovered over time that it took mental strength and endurance. Often the older models (some very old) were the most reliable – despite having more ailing bodies, their mental endurance and strength was astounding. It is an incredibly intensive act to model for an artist – and often models sustain physical injuries from standing for so many hours on one weighted side. Silvia did so, and despite being young and strong had to break from modelling after 2 years.
This model-artist relationship is very unique and something I could only experience in Italy, where this community has such a deep history and context for live modelling. I was afraid moving back to SA that I would struggle to find this sort of model culture available. But I have decided it also relies on more people seeing it as a respectful and dignified way to aid artists and be involved in the art world – not to mention make an income. Historically, female painters, if they were allowed into private ateliers, were only able to learn from and draw the female model – as not to be scandalised by the presence of the male nude. Instead of seeing this as a draw-back I would like to celebrate this historic nugget of female painters and artists working together with female models as a special sort of sisterhood. I see modelling as a very important and respectful profession that should be more openly celebrated and I am eternally grateful to the models that have stood for me and others.