The one where I’m a life model - Kristina Chetcuti

This week I was asked to do a spot of life-model duty. Three brilliant artists asked if I would be happy to sit for them for four hours while, brush in hand, they studied my face and sketched what they saw. “Yes!” I replied in a nanosecond, and then did a little jig around the house.

Being a life model was one of those odd things on my bucket list (another one is driving a log-carrier truck). Having someone depict you, I always thought, is the perfect insight into how people see you. I mean, I know what I look like, I have the mirror to tell me that – and I know I look different depending on how many hours I’ve slept; on whether I was woken up by the neighbour’s chihuahua; or on how much of a bad hair day it happens to be. I look different, but always the same, if you know what I mean: one eye is always slantier, one eyebrow is always straighter, the lines on my forehead (do they count as laughter lines?) are always there, no matter what my hair or my skin looks like.

So I often wonder, which version of me do people see? It’s not a question that photos/selfies/ videos can actually answer; it’s a question that can only be answered when people sketch you live. Of course the trick is on who is drawing you. I have many drawn versions of myself wearing triangle skirts, with my lips in the shape of a heart, my nose in the shape of a button and eyelashes matching those of Minnie Mouse, and I treasure them all, but they are biased illustrations because they’re drawn by my daughter. This time, it will be the unbiased artists’ take, as part of their routine training.

This is, therefore, how I came to be sitting on a stool, with my hands in my lap, smiling in the far distance – and looking at the same spot – for about three hours. Not unlike a mannequin, actually, albeit a chatty one, because I could hardly not ask any questions, could I?

“Is my nose big compared to usual sitters?” “Is every sitter happy with what they see after?” and so on so forth. Eventually all the smiling made my lips go dry and I could feel the top one start curling up and getting stuck. Oh God, I worried, will they paint me with a tucked-in upper lip? That, together with the slanty eye and the straight eyebrow, would make me look like Voldemort’s twin.

“Ah, don’t worry,” the lovely artists assured me, while getting me some water. “No one has perfectly symmetrical faces.” Ah, phew. “Although of course those of us who are very symmetrical tend to be considered as among the most beautiful.” Ah. “But in any case, for artists symmetry is boring”. Phew.

Should you get the opportunity to life model, grab it. It’s a delightful way of spending an evening

As this was not commissioned work, the aim was not to create a flattering portrait but for the artists to interpret as quickly as possible what they had in front of them and transfer it on canvas. In so doing, they practise working at a certain speed.

There’s an exhibition dedicated to this art of speed at the moment: The Devil of the Brush, at Palazzo Falson in Mdina, which displays bozzetti of works of Maltese art spanning the last four centuries. There’s some wonderful work of some of Malta’s most prominent art protagonists, including Vincent Apap’s sculpture of Churchill’s bust.

Apap was given only a 15-minute sitting with Churchill to do that. I would have spent the first 10 minutes of those genuflecting in front of Mr Churchill, then the last five minutes trying to mould clay with very sweaty palms. But not if you’re Vincent Apap – in which case your fingers work magic and you leave the room with a bust looking more like Churchill than Churchill himself.

I am mentioning this exhibition, because I’ve come to the conclusion that in a Maltese world which is festering with corruption, the unsolved assassination of Daphne, the gagging of the free press, then art and beauty, and visits to museums and exhibitions and beautiful buildings can be our only antidote and only salve.

In any case, back to my life-model sitting, at the end of the three hours, I got off my stool and faced three Kristinas. All different, but all captured the various ways how I see myself. In Maltese there’s one word for it: Allerwieħ.

Moral is – if we really need one –  should you get the opportunity to life-model, grab it. It’s a delightful way of spending an evening. And better still, you’ll go back home wanted to get your brush and paints out: start with triangle skirts and heart shaped lips and let yourself be carried away in the land of calm and colour.

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Twitter: @krischetcuti


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