The misogynist`s perception of artist-model relationship is male artist and female muse as his inspiration and recompense. History has long perpetuated this misconception, relegating the muse, not as a partner, but rather as courtesan. As husband and muse to a Québécoise artist, I refute this. The artist- model relationship is non-gender or orientation specific and often an equal partnership. Québécoise literary icon. Marie Claire Blais, in La Belle Bête, described the initial encounter of the lead character, Isabelle Marie, with her admirer. She ployait à mesure qu`elle se laissait regarder. Isabelle Marie had self-image problems, complicated by a beautiful mother who manifested her preference to a more attractive sibling. Isabelle Marie acquiesced to her admirer`s gaze, and on discovering that he was blind and learning his fantasy of beauty, she took advantage to describe herself to conform to his ideal. She became his muse. La Belle Bête, was Marie-Claire Blais`s first novel. It appeals to psychologists, exploring sibling rivalry, maternal dominance and effects of dysfunctional family life has on children. The novel catapulted Blais into Québec literary celebrity status. Shortly after publishing La Belle Bête , Marie-Claire Blais would meet Mary Meigs.
The misogynist`s perception of artist-model relationship is male artist and female muse as his inspiration and recompense. History has long perpetuated this misconception, relegating the muse, not as a partner, but rather as courtesan. As husband and muse to a Québécoise artist, I refute this. The artist- model relationship is non-gender or orientation specific and often an equal partnership. Québécoise literary icon. Marie Claire Blais, in La Belle Bête, described the initial encounter of the lead character, Isabelle Marie, with her admirer. She ployait à mesure qu`elle se laissait regarder. Isabelle Marie had self-image problems , complicated by a beautiful mother who manifested her preference to a more attractive sibling. Isabelle Marie acquiesced to her admirer`s gaze, and on discovering that he was blind and learning his fantasy of beauty, she took advantage to describe herself to conform to his ideal. She became his muse. La Belle Bête, was Marie-Claire Blais`s first novel. It appeals to psychologists, exploring sibling rivalry, maternal dominance and effects of dysfunctional family life has on children. The novel catapulted Blais into Québec literary celebrity status. Shortly after publishing La Belle Bête, Marie-Claire Blais would meet Mary Meigs. They attended the same art salons with Mark Rothko. Marie-Claire would enter into a triangular love affair with painter Meigs and her lover, Barbara Deming. A relationship that Meigs explained as transitive, destined to injure all involved:
I love Marie-Claire, Marie Claire loves me, Barbara loves me , thus , Barbara and Marie Claire construct a fragile love which threatens that between Marie-Claire and me.
Mary Meigs often painted both lovers. In her auto-biography, Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait, Meigs discusses all her life relationships but less her art. Meigs acknowledges that her early relationship with Maire -Claire Blais, rekindled her passion for painting and says Blais sat her her frequently. She does say Marie-Claire Blais was guarded, perhaps only shamefully acquiescing to her gaze. For Meigs.
the mystery of Marie-Claire who more than anyone (she has ) ever known, was and is unknowable….In my paintings of Marie-Claire, I often use raw umber for the right and yellow ochre for the light filled left eye, and finish my work in a state of despair. …. Yes, the secret is in the eyes (what would the Mona Lisa`s smile be without her inscrutable eyes to emphasize its ambiguity).
What I find striking, is throughout Lily Briscoe , Meigs does not discuss her paintings of Barbara Deming and in describing Barbara Deming offers that they were so superficially alike, so fitted to be true lovers. They looked alike, tall and flat-chested, like awkward boys. She and Barbara liked the same books, art and music, as well as the austerity of their life style, even though both came from privileged families. They struggled to achieve in their chosen arts of writing and painting. Meigs observed that Marie-Claire Blais was born to be a great writer. Her background was less than comfortable, leaving school at an early age, yet projected herself into the literary world with her first novel at the age of 20. In describing Marie-Claire, Meigs speaks of her youth, complexion and eyes in both senses of the word.
The French make the distinction between eyes (les yeux), a sight organ, and eyes (le regard expressif), an instrument of expression that opens the mind and soul for the world to see. I too am a muse and inspiration for an artist, my wife. L`OR Artiste`s first paintings of me were done from photo reference. She was in Montréal and I in Chicago a longtime art model, who using pseudo name, Chris. We corresponded before meeting and decided to produce an exhibit in Montréal. A South of France photographer, Aza Azunia, who lived in Chicago at the time, served as a medium for us. While I, a competitive body builder, prepared poses that projected motion, physical strength and provided for negative spaces, L`OR Artiste had one request of the photographer; to capture mon regard. Aza, being French, understood.Azunia observes that in fashion photography the model is an extension of the photographer. The photographer not only sets the stage and directs the model, but ultimately chooses the instant when light and expression create the optimal statement.
The model must be animated and emotionally involved during the shoot. When I did that photo shoot for L`OR I worked with a model who indeed was projecting to the artist, notwithstanding that the painter and the subject were 1000 miles apart. L`OR Artiste explains her request to Aza to provide a close up of the model`s eyes. In her words the pose is about space and gesture, the eyes reveal the soul. Often during live model sessions, notes L`OR, I do not make a spiritual connection with the model. When this happens, I experiment with light and colors, often omitting head from the composition. My most powerful works are those when the model allows emotions to transcend the pose. The door opens, welcoming me to seize the soul. I share my life with my favourite model; I know the contours of his body in fact, I`m a braille artist both when capturing his form and thoughts.
My wife has done a painting of an image that could very well have been myself, even though it was done ten years prior to us becoming acquainted. That painting was her conception of the ideal physical characteristic of a mate. Her interest had to go beyond mon regard. Mary Meigs spoke of Marie-Claire`s modesty. If gifted a blouse she would leave the room to try it on. As for bathing suits, she has a horror of them and appears in one, wriggling with embarrassment, nervously pulling it down over her shapely legs, or up, lest someone catch a glimpse of her breasts…..but if I accuse Marie-Claire of being a victim of the nuns and their false sense of decency, she denies it, not wanting to admit that she is unfree in any respect….
While I might be my wife`s modèle plus préféré, she does work with others, both male and female. One, Lyne Charlebois, is a full figured- middle age women who takes the opportunity of her modeling sessions to assume the role of glamorous. (see figure 1) Just as in La Belle Bête when Isabelle-Marie took the opportunity of her admirer`s blindness to define herself to her liking, Lyne uses her modeling experience to assume an alter-ego.
Psychologist, Paul Bindrim study nudity and confidence in his research on Nude Psychotherapy (1967). His laboratory was nudist resorts, I wonder what conclusions a modern researcher would arrive at if art models were used as subjects. The concept was first advanced in 1933 by Dr. Howard Warren, (Princeton University). Dr. Warren was president of the American Psychological Association. William Herbert Sheldon also studied Ivy League students looking for a correlation between body type and intelligence. Most entering freshman, including future President George H. W. Bush were required to submit to the study, by posing nude. Nude Psychotheraphy lost credibility in the late 1960`s. Most recently, performance artist, Sarah White has exploited the concept with a twist. Madame White is not a licenced therapist, but she interviews her clients when she herself is nude.
Mary Pratt, a Canadian artist from the Maritime Provinces, is best known for her realistic paintings of still-lives, and household settings that depicts the life of a homemaker. She used photo references and her work is considered a commentary and protest of the life of a homemaker. She worked extensively from photo reference. Mary Pratt did have benefit of a live in model, Donna Meany, who posed for her photographer –artist husband.
Donna was more than model to Christopher Pratt, she was, not unknown to Mary Pratt, her husband`s lover. Donna looked much like a younger, Mary Pratt, and perhaps an inviting surrogate for a self-portrait series. In a CBC film, It Was All So Wonderful: The Everyday Magic of Mary Pratt, Mary Pratt referred to one nude painting of Donna:
“And the ( painting ) of Donna crouching, I used in a show about weddings that I called Aspects Of A Ceremony I thought, the cringing, frightened female backed up against the wall was an appropriate image for that show. Because frankly that`s how I felt: Naked and unsure and frightened.”
In another painting, Girl in My Dressing Gown, (1981), Donna wears Mary Pratt`s nightgown. Unknown is did Mary Pratt request that Christopher photograph Donna in that gown, or was that his fantasy. In the film Mary Pratt does say that she requested that
Donna makeup her face for the painting, Cold Cream. So she did at times, give her model direction. There is no evidence to suggest that Mary Pratt, Donna, and Christopher were in a triangle relationship, but both Christopher and Donna made a contribution to this series of nudes. I vacillate between seeing this series as self-portraits or studies of infidelity and betrayal.
Late photographer, Barbara DeGenevieve (1947-2014) used male models exclusively and always objectified if not demean them. I met her at a viewing of her film, The Panhandler Project, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in 2012. The exhibit was titled Objectifying the Abject. Madame DeGenevieve walked the streets of some of
Chicago`s poorer neighbourhoods and when a homeless man approached her for a hand-out she offered to do so if that person consented to a nude photo shoot. If agreeable the subject was promised, $100 and a free room for the night. The morning after the photo shoot the subject was interviewed and asked about his regrets of the contract.
At the time of our meeting I was looking for a photographer to do the shoot for L’OR`s exhibit. In particular, I wanted to document the muscular stress of some of my most demanding poses with time lapse photography. I argued that the poses I had in mind would put me under great duress and that might be compatible with her genre. Madame DeGeneviève declined because she was not interested in glorifying the male subject. This was my only exposure ever to Object-Oriented Feminism. I respected her position. I still recommend that her work be studied, if not for its artistic content then for its social commentary. Katherine Behar has edited the book on OOF titled Object-Oriented Feminism.
Artists do influence each other and sometimes models direct their artists. When I first began corresponding with my wife, she had suspended her career, during a divorce. I like to think if I have made one contribution to the art world it was to revitalize the artistic spirit of L`OR Artiste. The first work that we created with me as live model, was a cryptic of a pose that I considered to be a signature pose. After three days of extensive sessions the work emerged as I had envisioned for years prior to our meeting. A subsequent pose was one of great anguish as I was trying to replicate a crucifixion. It was the same pose that I had asked Madame DeGenevieve to document. À Toi Pour Toujours (figure 2 )was not easy for my wife to capture me in such pain, but she knew that she was being the instrument of my art.
In 2007 I tried to organize and produce an exhibit, Perspectives, in Chicago. The concept was to evaluate how artists of differing ages, genders, and orientation would interpret a pose from a singular model. I stood prepared to pose for such a group and allow them to transgress with my poses to their heart’s content. The caveat was that the artists in statement had to be totally honest as to their motivation. Perspectives was never realized. The only two agreeable were Chicago artists Judith Roth and Sandi Bacon. I had a professional relationship with both as model and as public relations consultant for the Chicago Chapter of Women`s Caucus for Art. We produced an exhibit, A Women`s Gaze in 2007. The exhibit studied requisite poses used in body building competition and the work product turn out to be clinical and not erotic. In fact, even though I had posed prior for both artists in group session, totally nude; for this session however, all were agreed that I wear competition posing trunks.
Six years later work from A Women`s Gaze was incorporated with paintings L’OR did of me. There definitely was a contrast of the academic studies of Judith Roth and Sandi Bacon and the romantic studies of me painted by my wife. At age 70, I have lost my zeal for modelling and could not endure the challenges of posing for a project such as Perspectives. I do not hold copyright on the concept and I would encourage future studies and research to take up this project.
– Chirs Wise
Al-Kadhi, A. (2017), Hidden in Plain Sight: How Gay Artists Expressed Forbidden Desire in Code, [Online] Available at CNN.com (Accessed 27th April, 2017)
Antle, A. (2019) How Mary Pratt became an icon of the Canadian Art World, [Online] Available at: CBC News
Behar, K. (2016) Object-Oriented Feminism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.