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BBC R4 interview September 2019
00:00 / 05:43
Soho Radio interviewAugust 2019
00:00 / 1:37:25

ARE LIFE MODELS ARTISTS?

© Dominic Blake 2016 - 2024 | Member, British Society of Aesthetics | Life Model, Royal Academy Schools

 

'Dominic Blake's work is located at the core of an emerging art historical debate about the role of the life model' - Royal College of Art

'There is an emerging interest in the broader culture of investigating and revaluing the role of the life model in art practice.  In the U.K., this has been led by Dominic Blake' - Dr. Aurélie Debaene, Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent

'Blake's advocacy of a new way of viewing the life model is inspirational' - Jo Baring, Director, The Ingram Collection

'Dominic Blake's National Gallery lecture, Symbiosis through Sitting, fundamentally altered my understanding of portraiture' - Dr. Harriet O'Neill, Public Courses and Programming Manager, The National Gallery

In 2016, I conceived a novel art historical theory grounded in my experiences working as a life model at the Royal Academy of Arts, which I wrote about and first discussed in a lecture series, 'Are Life Models Artists?' at institutions including The National Gallery, the Royal College of Art and Mall Galleries and most recently at the University of Cambridge, the University of Leeds and at the V&AExamining life modelling through art historical and experiential perspectives I explore the existential realms within which the practice exists.  While not claiming in an absolute sense that modelling is an art form, I advocate a more enlightened perspective according to which it might become one within the realm of performance art or contemporary dance according to the determining factors of motivation and context.  'Are Life Models Artists?' is an ongoing enquiry, the seismic impact of the pandemic has fundamentally altered the calculus upon which our understanding of the life model is based.

Abstract

The role of the life model is inextricably linked with the Western academic traditions of fine art associated with the emergence of the art academies during the Renaissance, popularised in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture in Paris and the Royal Academy of Arts in London.  The academies have become the filters via which the life model is interpreted and understood, shaping contemporary attitudes and giving rise to cultural paradigms suggesting that models are servants, or mercenary drawing instruments.  By extension, models have been thought of as muses, providing the inspiration for artists to create their work via their emotional engagement.  However, life modelling is a complex practice, models fulfilling myriad roles beyond those defined by these paradigms.  Given the determining factors of motivation and context, modelling might itself become a physical mode of artistic practice within which the model uses their body as their medium to create works of art within the realm of performance art or contemporary dance.  These self-choreographed or spontaneous artistic acts may occur either in creative symbiosis with other artists, or beyond the studio / life room environment in alternate contexts, including museum or gallery settings.  Differing contexts may foster new perceptual frameworks of understanding on the part of the viewer; removed from previous paradigmatic shackles, the models artistry may be unambiguously revealed.  

While undertaking research for 'Are Life Models Artists?', I interviewed the directors of several major galleries, museums and private collections, practicing artists, life models and curators to gain their insight.  Included within the group of interviewees was Sir Christopher Le Brun, Past President, Royal Academy of Arts; Simon Martin, Director, Pallant House Gallery; Jo Baring, Director, The Ingram Collection; Lara Wardle, Director Curator, The Jerwood Collection; Gill Saunders, Senior Curator, V&A Department of Word and Image; JJ Delvine, Artist (BP Portrait Award 2018, 2011, 2006); Suzon Lagarde, Portrait Artist and life model and Robin George, life model.  I am also indebted to Dr. Darren Clarke, Head of Collections and Research at The Charleston Trust; Professor Jean Wainwright, Professor Carrie Vout (director, the Museum of Classical Archaeology) and the RCA for their support.

LECTURES

University of Cambridge, 'The Renaissance Nude', lecture, September 2024 ​

The Warburg Institute, 'Are Life Models Artists?', lecture, September 2024​

Swedenborg House, 'Are Life Models Artists?', lecture and panel discussion, September 2024

The Warburg Institute, 'Are Life Models Artists?', lecture, August 2024

Swedenborg House, 'Are Life Models Artists?', lecture and panel discussion, February 2024​

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 'Pasquarosa: From Muse to Painter', April 2024

V&A:  'Subverting Beauty: The Greek and Roman body and Donatello', short talk (in tandem with the exhibition Donatello: New Perspectives), March 23 

University of Leeds School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies:  'Are Life Models Artists?', 13 March 2023

University of Cambridge Faculty of Classics, 'Are Life Models Artists?', lecture, February 2023 at the Museum of Classical Archaeology.

The National Gallery, 'Symbiosis through Sitting', January 2023

The National Gallery, 'Dominic Blake in conversation with Matthew Morgan' (director, Turner's House Museum), January 2023

Mall Galleries, 'Are Life Models Artists?', (date TBC, 2023)

Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent:  'Revaluing the Life Model in Art Practice', symposium, co-curator with Dr. Aurélie Debaene, May 2022.​

University of Kent, 'Are Life Models Artists (or Mercenary Drawing Instruments?)', lecture, May 2022.

Royal College of Art, 'Are Life Models Artists?' February 2022

Middlesex University London, 'Are Life Models Artists?', April 2022

Royal College of Art, 'Are Life Models Artists?' February 2020

The National Gallery, 'Are Life Models Artists?', 2019

Hampstead School of Art, 'Are Life Models Artists?', 2019

Mall Galleries, 'Are Life Models Artists?', 2019

PANEL DISCUSSIONS

V&A: Friday Late: The Body Beautiful | 'Dominic Blake and Whiskey Chow in conversation with Dan Vo':  (a response to the exhibition 'Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance'), March 2023.

The National Gallery, 'Dominic Blake in conversation with Matthew Morgan' (director, Turner's House Museum), January 2023

 

Books | Papers

'Model and Artist in One Body', chapter, exhibition catalogue for Charleston's 2021 retrospective of Nina Hamnett. Co-authored with Dr. Aurélie Debaene

'Are Life Models Artists (or Mercenary Drawing Instruments?)', paper, delivered at the University of Kent's Aesthetics Research Centre, May 2022

'Bloomsbury and Social Justice', chapter about the life and work of Duncan Grant, due for publication in 2024. Ed's. Prof. Drew Shannon and Oliver Case

'Are Life Models Artists?'  (translation of lecture series of the same name, with generous assistance from The Charleston Trust), due for publication in 2025

Symposium:  'Revaluing the Life Model in Art Practice'

Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent, May 2022

In May 2022 I co-curated a symposium at the University of Kent's Aesthetics Research Centre with Dr. Aurélie Debaene, within which the theories I conceived and advanced in my lecture series 'Are Life Models Artists?' and associated issues that emerged out of Dr. Debaene's independent research, were explored.  Our successful application to the British Society of Aesthetics received generous funding in 2019.  I delivered a paper, 'Are Life Models Artists (or Mercenary Drawing Instruments?)' which was an abridged version of my forthcoming book of the same name.  Prominent members of the academic and artistic communities participated through panel discussions and lectures including Jo Baring, Professor Jean Wainwright, Dr. Anna Pakes, Professor Anne Eaton,  Anne Noble-Partridge and JJ Delvine.

Live Performances

I use my body as my medium to draw in space.  The ephemeral, hieroglyphic forms I create represent direct emotional responses to the environments I locate myself within, the people I share them with and to my body itself.  Captured photographically and videographically, they transform into permanent records of time and space.  I also create site specific, live performances grounded in my body.  ​​​​​

V&A - Alien Entity VII - Videographic installation - March 2023 

The Crypt Gallery - Abstract Form VII - Durational performance - September, 2021

Royal College of Art - live performance - Commissioned by RCA Drawing - 2019

Royal Academy of Arts Staff Summer Show - Photographic self portraits - 2019

Pitzhanger Manor - Live performance - Anish Kapoor at Pitzhanger - 2019

London Drawing - Experimental Forms - Durational performance - 2019

Royal Society of Sculptors, Signals - Live performance - 2018

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art - Live performance - 2018

 

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