Lower Parel artists making live portraits more accessible

Jun 18, 2017, 13:22 IST | Anju Maskeri

Every Saturday, a bunch of artists come together at Lower Parel to draw a model from life. Once an underground movement, the group is now slowly moving out of the shadows to make live portraits more accessible

Sessions at A Good Feeling are held over the weekend, starting at 1 pm and going on till 7 pm. In the first hour-and-a-half, the model is initially asked to offer different poses while holding on to each for 10 minutes. In the remaining hours, the model takes on more relaxed poses
Sessions at A Good Feeling are held over the weekend, starting at 1 pm and going on till 7 pm. In the first hour-and-a-half, the model is initially asked to offer different poses while holding on to each for 10 minutes. In the remaining hours, the model takes on more relaxed poses

Manoj Maran is no stranger to the spotlight. Having worked as a theatre actor and model for three years, the 24-year-old is comfortable with prying eyes and the camera lens. However, a few months ago, when he entered the auditorium at the IIT Powai campus to pose as a model for a group of artists, he felt like a newcomer all over again. "I was terribly nervous," he recalls. It was the Versova resident's first stint as model for artists. He had to sit still for a couple of hours on a stage while his audience observed him closely, sketching him all the while.

Within an hour, however, Maran's nervousness ebbed. "The artists' attention to detail was astounding. When I'd get back to my pose after taking a moment's break, they would correct me by reminding me exactly where my hand was in the previous stance. I was amazed," he says. The highpoint was when he saw all the sketches at the end of the session. "The thrill of being a muse for an artist is unmatched."

Since then, Maran has been one of several models for a bunch of artists who come together every Saturday at Lower Parel's A Good Feeling Studio to draw a model from life. Here,they experiment with new material and learn different techniques, while producing a set of sketches. Curated by artist Anand Radhakrishnan along with Kishan Dev, Patel Saumin, Manasi Parikh, Sajid Wajid Shaikh, Deeganto Joardar, Design Fabric Life Draw is a weekly workshop.

What started off as a closed, underground group of three members, now has 10 core members and 80 others in queue.

"After I graduated from Sir JJ School of Art, I realised there was hardly any opportunity for me to sketch from life," says Radhakrishnan, who is currently working on a graphic novel, Grafity's Wall, that captures the city's street culture. He enrolled at the Bombay Art Society sessions at Charni Road and Sanskar Bharati in Dahisar for live portrait sessions, that already had hundreds of artists in queue. "Those sessions were good, but academic. What I wanted was something more experimental," he says.

Models are given props to make the process more interesting
Models are given props to make the process more interesting

More than just modelling
The Lower Parel sessions are usually held over the weekend, starting at 1 pm and go on till 7 pm. While in the first hour-and-a-half, the model is asked to offer different poses while holding on to one for 10 minutes, in the remaining hours, it's a more relaxed pose. Kishan Dev, who works as a freelance artist and worked on storyboards for films like Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, among others, says the idea is to get a sense of both still life and moving images. "The idea behind short poses is to set yourself a deadline. In the rest of the session, you have time to pay attention to detail and take in contours," says Dev.

Initially, the group would request friends and relatives to pose. "If that didn't work, we'd tell people that we'd pay them and give high resolution scans to upload on social media. That got us a quite a few people," laughs Radhakrishnan. There was also an instance when the 25-year-old along with a fellow artist got a kid from the Potraj community, who play drums and dance to it while violently flagellating themselves, to pose for them. "We look for character in the model. It's about the personality," he says. All models are paid a fee of Rs 1,000 per session.

Manoj Maran with his sketch
Manoj Maran with his sketch

It's not copying
While the culture of drawing from life is widely practiced in Europe, the concept is still very niche in the country. While it's taught at art schools, artists usually find themselves fumbling for such opportunities, once they graduate. Manasi Parikh, a Mumbai-based illustrator who studied fine art at an institute in Barcelona, found herself in a similar situation when she returned to the city. "I tried to see if there were groups who would do this, but couldn't find them," she says. So, the 28-year-old would call her artists friends over and make sketches of her grandparents while they sat watching television. Parikh, who has attended a few sessions, feels sketching from life helps understand the basics of art better.

"It's not about copying, which you can also do from a photograph. Here it's about observing the details and rendering them the way you see them. What I learnt in Barcelona was more about what to see and how to see it," she says. Sometimes, the models are even given props to make the process more interesting.

Artist and illustrator Sachin Kondhalkar says the best part of the session is that it's non-judgemental. "You can draw the way you want. The idea is to learn the rules and then break them. That's how you learn," says Kondhalkar who has owns a design studio in Borivli.

While the models have been in steady flow for the group, a challenge that remains is to find models who will pose nude. Parikh, who during her stint in Spain, would regularly draw live nude portraits, feels that the stigma surrounding the job that makes it a taboo in India. "There, nude artists are respected and there's no awkwardness about the practice." However, Radhakrishnan and team are trying to get nude models for their sessions. "There are a lot of factors involved. You need a restricted group, security, more money and willing people. But we are still trying to work things out," he says.

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