Robert San Giovanni
Scenes from my Mixed Media Portraiture class at MECA yesterday morning. I ask my models to introduce themselves and to bring a few personal items to share. After doing several warm up gesture poses, Robert changed into a costume inspired by the culture of India, and his early years as a musician in NYC when he would wear all his clothing inside out. Because of this quirky habit, he said the local folks called him Inside Out Man. Typically my models talk for a few minutes about themselves and are then silent while the students draw them, but Robert had many stories to tell.
My students soon realized that Robert was going to keep talking and instinctively picked up their brushes (we were using ink wash) and began to draw him while he spoke. His daughter Iris, a student at South Portland Jr. High, had come to class with Robert to be his DJ, and had started off the session with some Indian music. Even she turned away from her laptop and joined the class in sketching her father. I took this moment to ask Robert to pause his story and told my students that this is what really goes on when someone sits for a portrait. They talk. And there is a chemistry between the model and the artist - it is intimate, almost like a therapy session. The challenge then, is to keep drawing while the model's facial expression changes during their story telling. There are probably many portrait artists who insist that their subjects be still and not speak. Not me. A face alive with movement and emotion is a deep mine that can powerfully feed the making of a portrait.
Many models who have posed for my Mixed Media Portraiture class over the past few years have thanked me afterwards for the experience, telling me that it was the first time they had been asked to share something about themselves, and that it felt so good to be acknowledged. Models are typically seen and not heard.
Robert spoke for nearly an hour, and after class told us that he was "glowing" inside from all the attention. My students found him to be a very soulful, colorful muse, so it was a rich and satisfying collaboration!