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Monday, June 27, 2022

What a Load of Old Bollocks

An infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters would eventually be able to replicate the complete works of Shakespeare. If, however, you gave three dyspraxic gibbons fifteen minutes alone with a sheet of sugar paper and a leaky biro, they would probably produce something similar to my output in my life drawing class at the Jam Factory Arts Centre.

The visual arts are not a strong point of mine; I have been cursed from birth with eight stumpy chipolatas for fingers and only nominally prehensile thumbs. This deficiency has left me able to do little more than ineffectually lunge at the page with the precision of a toddler and the self-control of Lenny during the climactic scene in ‘Of Mice and Men’.

Nonetheless, my friend agreed to take me along to her life drawing session to see if an hour and a half crudely sketching a naked pensioner could turn me into Da Vinci. That I was not entirely in my comfort zone became obvious early on. Imagine a stereotypical French artist in his smoky garret, floppy smock spattered with oil paints and legs akimbo as he daubs a portrait of his reclining mistress in a state of dishabille. He pauses in his work, lifts up his thumb and squints momentarily. The reclining mistress of course understands that he is merely gauging the scale of the piece, and continues to recline with aplomb.  She does not, as I did, interpret the artist’s extended digit as a friendly thumbs up, and respond with two thumbs and a cheery grin of her own.

As I realised the man opposite me was not welcoming me to the group, but merely concentrating on his own charcoal sketch, I quietly lowered my thumbs and took up my pencil. Easels were available, and I had taken one, not because it would make any difference to my artwork, but because I wanted to fit in. If there had been someone there dispensing complimentary berets, laudanum and severed ears to complete the troubled artist look, I would have been first in line.

“Every man is a builder of a Temple called his body.” At least, he is according to Henry David Thoreau. To be fair to my model, for a man of advanced years, he had looked after himself well, and his body was remarkably slim and wrinkle-free. The freakishly smooth contours of his body poured from my pencil, as he posed for us with studied neutrality. He conducted himself with remarkable gravity for a man utterly devoid of underwear.

My work did improve throughout the class, as our model moved from a series of warm-up positions to three longer poses. First he straddled a chair like an extra from ‘One Foot in the Grave’ who had wandered into a Cabaret audition; secondly, he stood with one leg propped on the seat, gazing into the middle distance with the gravitas accorded only to Roman Emperors and the publicly nude; and for a finale, he curled in a foetal position on the floor, as smooth, orange and shiny as a baked bean.

The resultant drawings will not be displayed in public any time soon, for fear they might upset small children, art critics and other people of a temperamental disposition. Nonetheless, that notoriously lazy bastard Michelangelo took four years to paint the Sistine Chapel, whereas I produced three sketches in just over an hour, at least one of which is vaguely identifiable as being a picture of a human man. For me, that is achievement enough.

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