Every Tuesday night, the main gallery of the Fayetteville Underground’s new location on Mountain Street on the square fills with a group of artists, and one nude model.
The group of artists study every curve, texture and intimate detail of the human body that’s presented, and it’s not always easy to feel comfortable, said local nude model Ken Smith. Eventually, and with enough practice and training, modeling nude can become an art in itself.
That’s why Smith has started a local Fine Art Models Guild, to support the integrity of the art of modeling and of figure drawing.
“We hope to be able to train people for modeling … We want to encourage people and help them understand it’s a profession and there are standards on both sides,” Smith said.
Through the guild, models can also be assured their in an environment of safety, which William Flannagan, figure drawer and original founding member of the Underground, said can be hard in our society.
When traveling to places in Europe, Flannagan said it’s obvious their culture doesn’t look at the nude human figure like people in the United States. For centuries, indigenous cultures and beyond — that didn’t experience artistic or cultural revolutions that changed the way people looked at the human body — have viewed nudity as a natural part of life.
“If you have a child in Paris or France, you can’t raise that child with them being ignorant of what a naked human looks like. The naked statues and art are everywhere,” William said.
He explained how figure drawing started as far back as the 13th century, when artists could only draw males. Since that time women have become the preferred models, and Smith said that can sometimes make it hard as a male in the art form.
“Women exude more softness, where people connect men with a heroic, aggressive figure. But if you’re an active model, you’re involved with the artists and it’s not about the beauty or fitting with the cultural ideal,” Smith said.
Both William and Smith talked about a model they’ve experienced as figure drawers who was larger than societal ideals of a beautiful figure, and was self-conscious at first.
“But she became one of the best models we ever had. Because she was beautiful and an individual, and really began to feel comfortable in the setting,” Smith explained.
Smith and other artists said the atmosphere of the Underground also helps put artists and models at ease, with its soft lighting, open feel and the surroundings made of other work from local artists. As many as six to 20 beginning and advanced artists show up each Tuesday, some becoming lifelong enthusiasts, because, William explained, figure drawing is something you can always improve on – just like modeling.
“When anyone starts for the first time, it’s really hard. Their first time I let them practice by taking a portion of my modeling time. If they like it, they’ll know,” Smith said.
The guild plans on growing with already expressed interest from Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, and lining up a collection of models for drawing sessions throughout NWA.
Models can get paid up to $15 an hour and often have to stay in several positions from one to three hours. Smith said it can be a physical and mental challenge.
Drawing sessions at the Underground start at 7 p.m. every Tuesday and cost $7 per person, with an easel and sometimes a drawing board provided. For more information on becoming a model or the guild, contact Ken Smith at 479-595-3183