Although I’ve posed for a multitude of photographers and artists all over the world, I can count on one hand the number of sculptors I’ve modelled for. I’m happy to say I managed to squeeze in just such an experience just before Covid-19 flew into the world and disrupted things (including my modelling tour to the US and Canada in May/June!). Modelling for a sculptor is a fascinating and satisfying thing to do, and one I’ve enjoyed reflecting on.
Read on for my ponderings on this somewhat unusual way to pass the time, and to view the results…
When Hamish Mackie originally contacted me, I was impressed by his body of work and intrigued by what we might come up with together. Meeting for an initial photography session, the aim of which was to brainstorm ideas for poses together, his enthusiasm, natural ability and obvious love for what he does filled me with confidence that this would be a fun collaboration.
Modelling for sculptures — ones which, like Hamish’s, aim to be life-like and authentic — is a strange psychological journey. It starts with curiosity (what will it end up looking like? What do I look like? Am I going to get really bored standing in the same position for ages? Is this the first step towards my immortality?), then travels through physical discomfort (the human body is not designed to stay still for long periods of time and the simplest of poses can become quickly unbearable – thank God for Hamish’s excellent idea to keep moving between the various sculptures/positions to avoid limb deadness, and for music and conversation; meanwhile, it turns out that bronze patination gas torches make excellent heaters!).
Next come confrontation with oneself (having seen thousands of nude photographs or paintings of my own body is not the same as standing next to a clay cast of it in 3D form, which can be viewed from all possible angles, nothing hidden) and, ultimately, acceptance (my leg or my stomach does this thing, but that’s OK and maybe even beautiful; how interesting that the muscles and flesh across the back are so involved and affected by the most innocuous of arm raises).
It’s precisely this interest in anatomy which seems to so fire up Hamish’s imagination — you can see it in his careful and vivid studies of deer, lions and birds, all of which are jaw-droppingly arresting ‘in the flesh’ (their subjects, however, presumably far less prone to stand still or, for that matter, demand tea breaks). He is not interested in merely imagining what a body, human or otherwise, will do in a certain position, or in making it up — he strives to get it right (true to life), and it is this meticulousness which means he has no qualms about chopping off my bottom halfway through the penultimate session, when he realises it’s in need of some slight relocation.
Below are a few ‘behind the scenes’ reference photos which Hamish took for study purposes, though the vast majority of the work was completed with me physically in front of him over a series of days:
When I arrived at our first proper session, after the initial photography, Hamish’s studio was decked in life-sized, printed photographs of myself holding the various poses he’d chosen to pursue in clay and then bronze — you can imagine the surreality of entering such a den. For these photographs, I’d held individual positions — ones we thought could work well — on a turntable which was rotated in small increments for the lens. Measurements were taken and confirmed (the distance from my armpit to my elbow, from shoulder to shoulder, from thigh to ground; several ratios involving my belly button; the circumference of an arm…), and by the time our diaries aligned for us to begin the first ‘proper’ session, with actual clay involved, Hamish had, amazingly, already fashioned the armatures ready to support the sculptures. These rough structures would give him a headstart in the game of layering, loading and refinement (perhaps these are not the technical terms for the work of sculpting, which largely remains a mystery to me even though I was there for every second of it; for one thing I can’t quite decide if it is an art or a science — I suspect it is both).
One thing I know: sculpture involves lots of knife work. Knives are strewn about the studio, and parts of my anatomy are abruptly chopped off and pasted on, smoothed by thumbs or left with rough texture which might later tell of re-thought or of gusto. It is difficult not to wince when watching your emerging doppelgänger’s shoulder being stabbed or refigured; perhaps modelling for sculptures is not for the very squeamish. Perhaps it’s also not for the very vain. I can’t overstate this: the physical, faithful manifestation of yourself, next to your actual living self, is a bizarre thing to witness. You become at times possessive over the piece and at other times disassociate from it. Sometimes the lump of clay is ‘I’ and ‘my neck’, and other times it is ‘She’ and ‘her torso’.
At all times, I was deeply impressed with how easy Hamish made the process appear to be. As if by magic, seven individual pieces emerged which looked undeniably like me, and of which I’m very proud. They each have different moods and personalities and, therefore, changing, possible titles spun in both of our minds as they were created; all of them felt empowering, strong and positive. I enjoyed the feeling of teamwork as we went along; being a model can seem, or be imagined to be, a very passive role, but it is my opinion that a good model brings something to the table beyond an incidental physicality, and that the best artists are collaborative as well as open to exploration within the form.
Hamish’s seven nude studies are Torso Life Size, Emergence Torso, Rebellion, Liberty, Abandon, Composed, Model in Studio Relief which can all be shipped worldwide directly from his studio.
If you’d like to enquire about a sculpture or arrange a studio visit, give Hamish a ring. +44 (0) 7971 028 098 / +44 (0) 1608 737 859. If you’d like to be put on his mailing list to receive one of hisr new catalogues later in the year, sign up on the contact page.