In 1971 I began drawing the human figure from live models, first in classes and then at open drawing sessions. Many artists leave drawing from life behind after a certain point in their education or artistic practice, but others continue to draw regularly or make working with models a central part of being an artist. This has been my practice for more than fifty years. I have explored other forms and approaches to art, but always return to the spontaneity of drawing, and the variety of human forms and poses. Figure drawing is one of the few artistic activities that is a true collaboration, dependent upon the creativity of those willing to model. Many art models are visual artists themselves or performing artists such as dancers and actors. Whatever the initial motivation, models who continue generally find in modeling an expression of value in their physical being that is not offered by any other social situation. The creation of artworks from live drawing sessions is only possible because of the empathy that exists between model and artist.
America’s underlying puritanism, thinking that the body and sexuality are shameful, stands in the way of this empathy. While the historical extremes of prudery have been slowly abandoned, the connection between adult nakedness and sexual behavior remains. This connection is not universal, as shown in the societies that practice communal bathing, as in Northern Europe, where clothing-optional recreation is common. However, American once had a general understanding of nudity as non-sexual, both for children and anyone in single sex groups. When I was growing up in the 1950s-60s, it was not unusual for children under a certain age to be naked at the beach while swimming or changing. Everyone who went to a gym or indoor pool showered with others of the same sex in a shower room with no privacy. When my generation entered adulthood, acceptance of public nudity became part of the counter-culture.
Sadly, mainstream American culture has largely returned to thinking of nakedness as not only sexual, but as perversely so; nudity in art is viewed as no different from the objectification or exploitation typical of the mainstream media. The meaning of an image depends upon the context within which it is placed. Unlike some other counties, in America there is virtually no public context for nudity other than sex. In much of Europe, non-sexual public nudity, particularly on beaches, is not unusual. In the 1970s, this was becoming the case in some parts of the U.S. as well. Yet fundamental aspects of culture do not change in a single generation, and the persistence of Puritanism is strong. As any artist must, I can only assert the context within which my work is created, and the intention of communicating the normal, positive manifestations of human existence visually.