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Our North West Correspondent



kandjfahy@aol.com
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When I modelled for a crucifixion! (essay)

Passion Play: CRUCIFIED AS ST DISMAS

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NAKED BEFORE GOD:
REFLECTIONS OF A CATHOLIC LIFE DRAWING MODEL


As far as I know, I am the only life model listed as a member of the Society of Catholic Artists. I have been a member for six years now, and I'm glad of the opportunity to 'bare my soul' as I already bare my body. The profile of me in the list of members on our website shows the breadth of my experience as a professional life model. I used to live on London's South Bank until May 2010, and my CV lists my work at such prestigious institutions as the Royal Academy Schools, the Princes Drawing Studio, the Wallace Collection, the Pall Mall Galleries, the Slade school of Art, the University of the Arts (once St Martins), the Art Academy, Royal Holloway College, National Portrait Gallery, Lord Leighton's house in Kensington, the Central School of Speech and Drama as well as numerous Adult Ed institutes and schools/colleges. I've now lived in the North West - in Runcorn, equidistant from Liverpool and Manchester - since May 2010, where I'm still busily modelling, although mainly now for private artists and groups (although I'm now on the books for Art Foundation sessions at Carmel College near St Helens, which has a catholic ethos, and work is pending for life classes at Merchant Taylors school near Liverpool.) I'm also now on the model list for the Independent Art School - they have an interesting website. I am also a regular model for Northern Realists in Manchester, and the WEA in Chester.



I have posed in all kinds of settings - woodlands, the slate excavations at Blaenau Ffestiniog, galleries, gyms, cellars, converted factories, dungeons, disused crypts, laboratories, warehouses, graveyards, private houses (even my own) but I think my favourite must be the life room in the Royal Academy school off Piccadilly in London. It is historic and full of atmosphere, harking back to the Victorian age, and arranged like an amphitheatre, with the students in tiered semi-circular rows looking down on the model. The life drawing world's answer to Hogwarts' And as a contrast, the rich, dark redness of the rooms in Lord Leighton's residence.



I am happiest when I am naked: I enjoy the lovely sense of liberation and sensuality it gives me. I am proud of being a professional nude model, and I see it as a complement to my profound catholic faith. I love being a part of the world of figurative art, and I think that my work as a model, and my faith, reinforce each other. Just think of all the rich history of the body in art, particularly works with a Christian theme; how else would they have been created without all those famous artists and sculptures studying, measuring and being inspired by the real naked bodies of living models' The central image of our faith is Jesus crucified on the cross, his beautiful body exposed and bare for all mankind to see down the ages - the nude human form, in all its beauty and splendour, is a gift, and above all, is in God's image. My patron saint is St Dismas, the good thief who was crucified alongside Jesus; I am a member of the Sodality of St Dismas, a circle of his devotees who worship his memory and his place alongside Christ, who assured Dismas that he was going to be welcomed joining Him in paradise. We worship nude, except for a cross pendant, to mirror the nudity of the crucified Christ, and as a symbol that we are offering our bodies to God, also as a sign that we are casting away the things of this world and are ready to enter the next. I pray to Dismas to give me strength if I am going to do a strenuous pose, for example one involving standing for a long period (my record so far is five hours, albeit with breaks, which I did a year ago at an intensive life drawing weekend at the Salford Artists' workshop.) The Sodality does not run to a website, but anybody who wants to find out more about it can email Fr Brian Passmore at gymnos.550@hotmail.co.uk



The experience of modelling has great extremes: it is sublime to recline like a voluptuary on a couch or chaise-longue, like the Rokeby Venus, in a nice warm studio to the accompaniment of the melodies of Bach or Thomas Tallis, but not quite so easy or comfortable to be posed in a harsh, bleak setting, spread out on a cold tin table in a draughty converted garage (and there are some artists I have worked for who are not happy unless the sufferings of the model comes through in the finished work.)



I rejoice in my membership of the Sodality: their support in what I do is very dear to me. They say that I am doing the right thing, and that it is a uniquely beautiful way of worshipping God.



The kind of poses I am asked to do tend to require a good deal of stamina, so I have to make efforts to keep fit. How' I have a couple of old friends, who are pensioners livng alone with no family, and can't get around that well - two of them live in Tyldesley, Manchester, one in Wigan and another in the Wirral, I try and visit them each once a week to do domestic chores and household jobs for them, which I do in the nude. As one of them said, it's the first time they've seen bare flesh for years,! Besides this, I belong to a male nudist club, also in Manchester, and I also belong to a society which practices 'pantokraton', or naked oil wrestling as per ancient Greece. Incidentally, I have a couple of video cassettes of my doing this - I'd love to upload them onto the net if I was shown how to do it. Anyone like to borrow it?



The teaching of life drawing and painting in secondary schools/colleges is an accepted feature of the Arts curriculum, and I used to get a fair amount of work from this source when I lived in London. I particularly liked working for a catholic grammar school in Wood Green, where my efforts were always highly appreciated by tutor and pupils, who took a mature attitude to my nudity. I was taught at a catholic boarding school (a Salesian College in SE England) where nudity was seen as masculine, and following the robust Spartanesque culture of some traditional public schools, and therefore 'character building': we had a regime of cold showers, nude swimming sessions, and sometimes nudity in the gymnasium (as per the ancient greek meaning of the word) and my favourite sport, nude wrestling.



Anyway, life drawing was available for the upper school who were doing Art Foundation courses. The head of art, Mr Mack, was very keen on teaching the techniques of drawing and painting the human figure. The students were inspired, like me, by the powerful religious imagery surrounding them, especially paintings and sculptures of Christ's life and crucifixion, the Christian martyrs, and sculpture such as the Pieta. However, the school was too tight-fisted to pay for professional models, especially as there would have been the costs of transport - fares, petrol, etc. The result: I and two others in the lower school were persuaded to be the models (not that we needed much persuading.) The three of us, Brendan Talbot, Alec Kelly and myself, were known as the 'Three Graces.' We became quite good at mastering posing techniques: how to distribute weight in standing poses, dealing with the 'dead leg' syndrome, keeping balanced and minimising going numb. Also thinking ahead to the next pose when doing short poses, and rotating each pose so that all artists got complete views of one's body. I was in my element, as I saw myself as an intrinsic part of the long tradition of figurative art, stretching back to all those lovely renaissance paintings and sculptures, and the studios of Caravaggio, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Goya et seq. and in fact as far back as Praxiteles. I always loved looking at the beautiful nudes in the works of the Masters, and now I had become one! The life model is an essential tool in the figurative artist's workbox. How else can we learn about the proportions and measurements of the human body, its muscular tones and structures, except by carefully observing it?



Besides conventional life drawing, the art students also developed their talents by producing some really serious paintings, inspired by themes from the Old Testament involving the nude figure. Two examples stand out in my mind: in one, they had me pose as Isaac in the story of Abraham, and in the other as Abel being slain by Cain.



One of the students was particularly proud of a painting he did of St Dominic Savio, who is venerated by the Salesian Order, and who died as a teenager (full story on the net.) He illustrated the story in which St Dominic Savio was found kneeling before the crucifix, in a state of religious ecstasy and naked except for God's grace, in the form of rays of light shining from the cross. I was chosen to pose for this. The painting did cause some controversy, but it did receive plaudits when exhibited at the Battersea Arts Centre.



After leaving school, my love of life modelling helped me to find the money to pay for hitch-hiking to the south of France, together with Alec and Brendan. We spent three months in Frejus and St Raphael, and I was able to do a spot of modelling there as well! Getting my clothes off also helped pay my way during my time as a student taking a degree course at the School of East European studies in London - a case of following in the footsteps of Sean Connery and Ronald Reagan, who both posed for art classes before they became famous actors. I continued to do a good deal of photographic modelling with Alec and Brendan - at this time, we all shared a flat together. Our most memorable work was posing for a photo study of Christ's passion. The centrepiece was a tableau vivant of the crucifixion scene, with the three of us so displayed, our naked bodies beautifully back-lit against a black background. It really meant something to me to pose as St Dismas. I was very nervous about the inevitable physical pain necessary for the pose, but as an experience, it was awesome, and I had a wonderful sense of completion and nearness to God. I knew I would always be a life model for ever afterward. This project was undertaken by a camera club in Holland Park, and was a prize wining entry in a subsequent exhibition. I continued to do extra-mural modelling for life sessions and photography 'after hours' when I got a job as an office manager in London Transport. When I was made redundant in 1995, the bitter pill was sugared by the fact it enabled me to model full time, besides other jobs requiring nudity.



My career as a full time art model took off when I joined RAM -the Register of Artists Models. Any one who is seriously interested in being a proper model should join, and its website is very well worth looking at. Membership is expensive, in my opinion, and candidates are required to audition to prove they have the necessary aptitudes (ability to hold a pose, physical resilience, ability to get on with students and tutors, and so forth.) RAM was founded by professional life models, and its aim is to look after the interests of artists' models and raise their status; they keep a special eye on model's pay rates, and have a 'list of shame' of those colleges where the pay is derisory. Working conditions, such as changing facilities, also come under RAM's scrutiny. And it is a clearing house for models seeking work, and for artists looking for skilled and reliable models. Contacts made through RAM have brought me tons of modelling jobs, in schools, sixth form colleges, Adult Education classes, art circles, individual artists, medical schools. And for a number of years, I ran (as well as posed at) RAM's summer drop-in life workshops at Richmond Community College.



RAM insists on the highest standards from its members, and equally so from artists who want to use a RAM model. By the very nature of their work, models can be very vulnerable in a 'one to one' situation, and models accept that this vulnerability, combined with an attractive nude body, can put them at risk of molestation and that this is an occupational hazard. I know this from my own personal experience, but this is not the place to go into detail.

I am also a member of other life models' organisations, namely Spirited Bodies, Art Nude UK - 'the new kid on the block' with a fresh looking website worth looking at- together with ArtMod and the Guild of Erotic Artists. I also get work via Gumtree and Craigslist. I wish I had my own website??..



I'm not only an artists' model - the boundary between the visual and the dramatic arts is blurred. I have been an extra in drama or films where nudity has been required. And more than being an extra! I played myself as a nude art model in a life class in a light-hearted film about art students called 'Cashback' in 2006, starring Emilia Fox, and as a cadaver in 'Nightwatch', a film made by students of the University of the Arts in London and set in a mortuary (not as gruesome as it sounds.).



My CV on the catholic artists' website also mentions my appearance in Channel 4's 'Life Class - Today's Nude'. This was a series of five half- hour programmes, shown at lunchtime over a week, involving an experienced tutor/artist drawing from a model. There were three female models and two males. One of the tutors was Maggie Hambling, the famous sculptor (whose life classes at Morley College I have posed for in the past.) I appeared in the Thursday programme as the model for Judy Purbeck, who runs life sessions in North London. The idea was that the viewer, with guidance from the presenter, would draw the model and, if they wished, upload the result to the C4 website. During the programme, Judy did three separate charcoal drawings of me. I was quite flattered that some 60 people uploaded their drawings; and what is more - and this shows the serendipity of the modelling world - twelve of them asked me to get in touch to pose for them 'in the flesh', which I duly did.



One of these contacts was a group who were into 'way out' nude theatrics. One of their specialities was to organise 'Murder Mystery' events for very private house parties. They invited me to join their team and play the role of the murder victim, nude of course, all in the interests of reality! I said yes, of course. A similar job, but which came via craigslist, was from a member of the 'Mithras Magick Circle.' He asked me if I wanted to be a magician's assistant for turns at a gay men's club, available for things like being sawn in half or stuck on a wheel for a knife-throwing routine, but naked! I thought, why not??..



Other TV appearances were of my body, along with five other models of both sexes, as a demonstration facet showing variations in anatomical structure in 'Diet Doctors' (C4); also in 'My Secret Body.' (C5) about attitudes to nudity nowadays. Lots of interviews and footage of naked bodies in Turkish baths/saunas/wrestling (which did include me.)

And there have been special projects requiring teams of models. A couple of years ago, around ten of us, all RAM members, took part in a shoot at the Kennington Camera Club bringing to life the drawings of Dante's Inferno by William Blake - an assembly of naked bodies writhing in eternal torment, suffering the miseries of the damned! Peter Morsley, the photographer, specified a cross section of models, both sexes and different shapes/sizes/ages. The job was physically exhausting and lasted for about four hours - I think the results are still accessible online.



I always found that East London is full of all kinds of off-beat art groups, most needing models (and Manchester seems to be going the same way, I'm glad to say.) I sometimes work for an group of artists in Leytonstone, ,East London called the Thanatists, who are into Grand Guignol and the macabre. Also their neighbour, Malejunction, whose website is very interesting; they use me about two or three times a year.



Thanks to RAM, I was also very flattered to be given work by an artist, Talbot Hicks, at his studio in Parsons Green. He is an academician and a self proclaimed Caravaggista who specialises in painting the nude in religious themes - and there is plenty of scope for that- and is a believer in realism and painstaking detail. His first painting using me was of the traveller given succour by the Good Samaritan (an event which had echoes of an experience many years ago when travelling alone abroad - I was stripped and nearly came to a sticky end - but this is a separate tale), followed by a painting of the crucifixion of St Sebastian. He followed this with a painting of the theft of the body of St Mark (as per Brunileschi.)



I certainly impressed him - it was very kind of him to comment to RAM on my qualities as a model. He cited my stoicism and humility, the purity of my skin, my gentleness, the soft beauty of my body, my reliability and steadfastness and above all my spirituality.? I became his principal model and it was he who told me about the Society of Catholic Artists, something for which I am forever grateful to him.



A lot of his work using me consisted of the depiction of various aspects of Jesus' crucifixion. For me, it is a privilege, and a profound and significant religious experience to model for this theme. which goes to the heart of our faith. The society's website mentions that I modelled for a painting of Jesus' entombment, inspired by Caravaggio's masterpiece: I have also portrayed the nude Jesus being prepared for lifting on to the cross, and the deposition after his death. Other artists besides Talbot have also used me to illustrate Jesus' suffering - students at Core Arts in East London won acclaim when they used my body for a particularly beautiful set of charcoal drawings based on El Greco's 'Resurrection' .



Another professional artist for whom I pose from time to time is Jeanne Daly, who got in touch with me thanks to a recommendation from one of our members. She has a studio in the former Bird's Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham, where she specialises in paintings and charcoal drawings, based on dramatic biblical themes again giving full potential for depicting the nude figure. She has a particular preference for male models shackled and bound - to be honest, her studio resembles a torture chamber out of the Spanish Inquisition- chains, shackles, hooks, beams and the like. When I last posed for her, I was one of four bodies neatly stacked one on top of the other on a glass-topped table, , aping the style of the female nudes painted by Jenny Savile.



One aspect of Talbot and Jeanne's work is that

a. they insist that their models are fully shaven: torso, limbs and pubic areas;

b. they never ever use female models. This is, they say, because of the extreme rigour and harshness of the poses they set; Jeannes's favourite theme when she uses me is the suffering of the early martyrs. She takes great delight in recording the expressions of anguish on the faces of the males who pose for her, me included.



One of her paintings which achieved exhibition status and with me as the model is of the martyrdom of St Agatha. I am not in the least embarrassed to say that it is not uncommon for artists to use me in a feminine role. At the Princes drawing studio, I modelled both as Adam and as Eve in a copy of Massaccio's Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Elsewhere, I have also posed as both Perseus and Andromeda; and the principal figures (including the naked slave girl seen from behind in a pastiche of Delacroix' Death of Sardanapalus. Besides allowing me to give rein to my feminine side, the artist only has to pay for one model. I always thought it quite hilarious when one elderly member of a life drawing circle in East London once boomed out, when drawing me in a lying-down pose 'Kenneth has a very feminine bottom!'



It does one's self-esteem a power of good to see oneself displayed on a gallery wall, and better still if there is a sign on the work saying 'sold'. The last time I saw this on a picture was of me as one of the bodies in a re-creation of The Raft of the Medusa, put on display in an exhibition in Woolwich. Speaking of Woolwich, I always enjoyed modelling for an experienced and kindly artist, Dunstan Pereira, in his little flat there, and his entertaining company.



When I model for the crucifixion, I spend a lot of time beforehand in spiritual preparation, getting 'psyched up' naked and ready to be lifted on the cross. This involves fasting, prayer and meditation - I see what I am about to do as an act of worship, and for this reason I always donate payment for such work to charity. I have been used for all permutations of crucifixion featured in religious art - upside down, as was St Peter, and as St Andrew. And again as with certain martyrs, with my body facing inwards. It hardly needs saying that being crucified is far from pleasant; it is extremely painful and stretches the model's stamina to the limit. There are ways in which the model's ordeal can be minimised, for example little ledges can provide some support to the feet and arms, but the model must be prepared to suffer. What Jesus endured was far, far worse but modelling for the crucifixion means I am sharing his suffering in some small way, and reinforces my faith: it makes me better understand and appreciate the agonies He went through to save mankind.
Read more about my crucifixion here

For the past year, I've been posing for two SCA members up here:



Ron Himmelwright in St Asaph, whose style takes after the German painter of the Wilhelmine period, Lovis Corinth. He's done some powerful studies of the crucifixion, and the theme of early christian martyrdom;

Eric Hall in Brighouse, who favours orientalist themes (slaves in Ottoman boudoirs and hammams)

Each for once a month, with overnight stays, and more to follow this coming term.



Returning to other aspects of life modelling, I have done special sessions for the benefit of architects, either students or professionals, as drawing from life is a superb way of exercising skills of measurement, and judging scale and proportion. I have also been used by Sony Entertainment in life classes designed to teach their people who devise digital programmes for playstations, etc. in how to capture the movements of the human body. Invevitably, this requires lots of VERY gymnastic and fast-moving quick poses. On a couple of occasions, the need for quick dynamism has called for two or three models fighting in mock combat. This was nothing new to me, as I already had experience of this in the Cain and Abel story.



Before leaving London, I did some modelling for special classes organised by the City of Westminster, as part of a project designed to rehabilitate homeless and disadvantaged people by introducing them to new skills, helping them to reintegrate into the world. Among these was art and design, and as an offshoot of this, life drawing. Some of the results produced by the students showed really impressive potential- in fact, some of the work was specially exhibited in a gallery in Marylebone. The manager of the course expressed reservations about me being completely naked during the sessions (which took place in a former boiler room) but he was assuaged when the tutor arranged for my pubic area to be covered by a skimpy piece of wispy cheesecloth. It is a shame that because of budget cuts, these classes have stopped.



A good deal of my modelling has been for medical schools and the like. At the moment, I am doing some life sessions for students of a medical school in Leeds. When in London, I did similar work for the medical schools at Guys and a couple of other places, including Westminster and Chelsea Hospital, where I was used as a model for a visual aid package (DVD and photos) for students of anatomy. Another noteworthy job was for life classes organised at the Royal College of Surgeons, where my body was used for the instruction of students/ practitioners of plastic surgery.



Medical schools need people who are relaxed about being naked and who are prepared to be used as a demonstration facet in classes or lectures about the structure of the human body.. This can mean being used to illustrate muscular movement and how various parts of the body are related. I'll be doing more work of this kind later on this year at the University of Stafford's medical school, also in the Broad Green Hospital in Liverpool. I see this type of work as important as the work I do for artists, even though it sometimes means being laid out on a slab like a piece of butchers' meat being prodded and scrutinised by students, and written/drawn on with marker pen, but I strongly believe in doing this - I want to help medical education in any way I can..



I am asked to do all kinds of projects which are tangential to modelling for art. In this category is a job pencilled in for later this coming autumn. A couple of postgraduate medical students in Manchester sought volunteers in the modelling fraternity to assist in a project they are undertaking on the physical effects of crucifixion on the human body, and they asked me to be the guinea pig. The study will entail monitoring he effects on my cardio-vascular and lymphatic systems, changes in pulse rate and blood pressure, circulation, the resilience of muscles and respiratory system and so forth. I'm viewing this with some trepidation, as crucifixion is after all a painful form of execution, but what I do is not for the faint-hearted?



Like many of the models I know, when I die I have arranged for my body to be utilised for anatomical study. But having said that, I was very impressed by visiting Professor Von Hagen's Bodyworlds exhibition a couple of years ago, so in common with many other life models I know, I have had myself registered and put on the list for plastination.



Something I have not done since leaving London is model for sculpture. It used to occupy I would say about 30% of my time, modelling for tutored sculpture classes or less often for private sculptors. It was good to get this work as this would mean I would be needed for a whole run of sessions throughout a complete term. It could be quite weird towards the end, being confronted by a crowd of images of one's own body!



Something allied to this is modelling for body casting. RAM always warns models to have complete trust in the practitioner, as it entails the body caster working on and touching the most intimate parts of the body. Some models will not go near this branch of modelling, but it's fine by me. I used to work for a body caster in Putney, who produced some superb images of pseudo-classical reclining nudes. But I personally think it takes more expertise to produce a model of someone by using the trained eye and traditional sculptural tools.



And now for some self-promotion. I would be delighted to hear from any other member of the society, either to comment on what I have written, or to ask me to model for them - we have good links from here to most parts of the country;

My email is kandjfahy@aol.com.
And I can be reached on 07890 661717.
I can also provide plenty of images of my work.



KENNETH FAHY

25TH March 2014



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