Throughout history, the relationship between the artist and the model has at times been as intriguing as the artwork itself.
I was fortunate to have a live-in male model named Calvin for 18 years. He was the subject of many a painting. When I awakened in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall back to sleep, he was always on hand to join me in the studio. He would strike a stunning pose and it was impossible not to drop everything I was working on and sketch him. He had a knack for holding a pose for what seemed like hours without moving a muscle, his eyes peering into mine.
We had our artistic differences though.
One of the first paintings I did of Calvin was based on Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus. I wanted to create a painting about the birth of Venus’ cat. Calvin was in total agreement that he was an excellent choice for the subject matter. He liked that I positioned his head turned away from the face of Venus who obviously longed his attention (like me). However, he hated how I elongated his body and shrunk his head to emulate Botticelli’s rendering of Venus. Calvin thought this made his body look more like the shape of a plucked chicken than handsome gray haired guy he was in real life.
We were not in agreement about color choice either. I’m partial to the use of a crimson red color and when diluted, it becomes a soft pink. You can image Calvin’s horror when he discovered I had painted him pink. He held a grudge about it and pouted for days. He threatened to go on strike and never hold still for another sketch. I vowed then and there never to paint him pink again. He finally calmed down though he never completely trusted me after that.
He was most pleased with one of the last paintings I did of him entitled Three Kings. He thought the title was very fitting of our relationship and was happy that I finally acknowledged who the real royalty was in our home. He wasn’t too keen on the color palette but went along with it since I didn’t paint him pink. I admit I wooed him by crowning him in jeweled gold befitting of his grace and importance.
Calvin died of old age this year, passing his last moments in my studio under my painting table. He was a huge influence on my work guiding color choice and composition for many paintings. I have considered whether I’ll paint another cat pink in the future but won’t unless I get his permission first.