Seventies Nostalgia

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Artists' Models


Celia Birtwell is a successful textiles designer and fashion designer (her latest collection sold out at Top Shop in ten minutes), but she has regularly modelled for her friend David Hockney over the years. As a result, his portraits of her hang in art collectors’ homes all over the globe. I often wondered what it would be like to have to patiently sit still for hours while being painted or drawn. In the early Seventies, I found out. Peter Schlesinger used to be a painter, but has since switched to being a sculptor. I’m the eldest of three girls and initially, he wanted to paint a portrait of us all together. Peter started to draw us all in David Hockney’s studio and at first he was quite excited, especially as my middle sister wore a Twenties' feathered cloche hat she had bought especially for the occasion. Unfortunately, my sisters began to quarrel during the sitting and refused to sit together, so Peter scrapped the idea of drawing us. But, a few years later, he asked me to pose for him by myself. At the time, my aunt in Beverly Hills had just sent me a knee length green, leopard print Diana von Furstenberg wrap dress, which I consequently wore everywhere. I even wore it to a charity ball where all the other women were embalmed in designer label ball gowns, and some of them even had tiaras plonked on their heads.

I was thrilled that Peter wanted to draw me, but I found sitting for him was the most deadly job in the world. I sat on an uncomfortable chair in Hockney's studio for what seemed like hours, forbidden to move or talk. He did allow me to have breaks from time to time, so I stood on my head without bothering to remove my Manolo pink skyscraper high heeled shoes. But, the acute boredom was worth it. He did a marvellous painting of me in the green leopard skin frock, and it currently hangs in his New York loft, which he shares with Eric Boman, the photographer. The late John Kobal, the film historian who had the largest movie stills collection in the world, visited them in New York once, and admired the painting so much, that Peter offered to sell it to him. Although John was one of my best friends at the time, he didn’t think Peter’s asking price was worth it.

I also religiously wore the green leopard skin when I posed for Adrian George, the illustrator and painter in his Bayswater attic flat. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space for me to stand on my head there. Adrian once drew me sitting in a deckchair and he captured me perfectly. I was young at the time and looked pretty vacant in the drawing. Adrian was my Svengali at the time. He even helped me get my job as the gossip columnist on "Ritz Newspaper' in the late Seventies. He also inspired me to invent a character called Jonti in “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies. Jonti got Alice, the book’s heroine a job, which was true to life.

I wasn’t Adrian George's only protégée though. He had an inner circle of his disciples and drew all of them at one time or another. His dealer usually flogged his stuff, but luckily, he gave me the deckchair drawing of myself, which hangs on my office wall today. Adrian also liked to draw Marinka, a famous art tart, and a professional artist's model. She was chocolate box pretty, and had a voluptuous body which the artists loved to paint. When she wasn't sitting for Adrian, she regularly sat for other painters like Ron Kitaj. I don’t know how she had the patience to pose from nine to five, because I thought that having to sit statue still for hours, while being drawn was definitely the most boring job in the world – even though I tried to console myself when I did it, I was posing for posterity.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

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