Arts & Entertainment

Life drawing in the winter crowd

It may be cold outside, but Marrickville is warming things up this winter with a bohemian blend of art, gypsy rhythms and nudity at popular watering hole, Camelot Lounge.

On any given Wednesday, an eclectic assembly of up to 40 artists can be found huddled in the downstairs Django Bar for Gypsy Art Club, a weekly life drawing soirée. While a nude model poses, projections of the muse fill the back wall as the live band plays evocative gypsy-flavoured music.

Gypsy Art Club recently returned to Camelot Lounge by popular demand. The night draws a multi-generational crowd, from curious students, to art-scene elders, to parents escorting their teenage kids.

According to Yaron Hallis, musician and owner of Camelot Lounge, the weekly sketch club is an inclusive haven for serious artists, first-timers and observers.

“There is no expectation at these sessions that one has to have a particular level of artistic proficiency. No one is judging anyone, or looking over their shoulder critically – everyone is absorbed in their own personal experience,” he explains.

“It’s the most fabulous bohemian atmosphere – but not in a pretentious hipster kind of way! It’s a warm and welcoming vibe. Music plays a pivotal role. People can tune into it, tune out of it – it doesn’t matter. It’s there to complete the artistic experience.”

Hallis believes that the relaxed setting of the event helps the models feel at home. He says, “For some of the less-experienced models, it can be confronting getting undressed in front of a bar full of people. But, with the musicians beside them, they share the attention – some artists actually draw the musician instead or as well as the model.

“On one occasion, the model happened to be an excellent jazz singer so she joined the pianist for a couple of impromptu songs – our first naked singer at Camelot!”

One of the regular Camelot models, known to her sketch club contemporaries simply as ‘Amber’, agrees that the music adds an extra dimension to the night.

Amber says, “In winter, the turnout for sketch clubs usually dwindles – but places like Friend in Hand and Camelot Lounge have changed that. Gypsy Art Club is warm and vibrant – the atmosphere is spontaneous and a bit cheeky.”

For the last two years, Amber has been at the helm of Sydney’s post-GFC life drawing renaissance. The Crisis was bad news for life models. Class attendance dropped, paid modelling work dried up and several local sketch clubs closed down.

Rather than give up on the flagging industry, Amber founded Sydney Life Drawing, a community group dedicated to reviving and promoting life drawing in Sydney. And locals seem to have taken up the invitation, returning to life drawing classes in droves.

All around Sydney, people are kicking off their week with a little life drawing. On Mondays, there are sessions at TAP Gallery in Darlinghurst or Glebe’s Friend in Hand. On Tuesdays, sketchers can head to Sydney Art Class in Darlinghurst or Gallery Red in Glebe. If you can’t make it to Camelot on hump day, 107 Projects in Redfern also offers life drawing classes. And if you like your life drawing with a touch of burlesque, the Dr Sketchy experience at Arthouse promises to please.

Life drawing is well and truly back on the Sydney social calendar. The recent surge in popularity has kept Sydney-based burlesque performer and life model, Rosie Rivette busy.

Rivette says, “Nights like Dr Sketchy’s and Gypsy Art Club take life-drawing out of the art schools and into a warmer, more relaxed social setting. You don’t have to be a master artist to enjoy life drawing. It’s a healthy exercise in putting pen to paper and seeing the human body in a different light.”

And while life drawing can be a social occasion, Rosie points out the inherently personal nature of artistic practice.

“I love to see the different ways that people see me. Some artists shape you in the form of something that already existed in their minds – one guy drew me in the form of an octopus.

“As a life model. I have an invisible contract with the artists; I give them an avenue towards something that already dwells in their imagination. I provide the foundation for their artistic fantasy,” she says.

Rivette explains that life models, unlike their waif-like catwalk counterparts, are hired for their natural feminine form.

“I’ve learned, through talking to artists, that there is no ideal body shape for a life model. It is more important to be able to create interesting shapes with my body,” she says.

Hallis agrees, “The human form is so very beautiful – in all its permutations and diversity – and life-drawing is truly a celebration of this.”

Amber says, “In a world where women are often expected to look and behave a certain way, life modelling is very liberating. It doesn’t matter if I gain weight, or if I lose weight. I am free to just be me.” (CC)

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