by Diane Thornton | photos by Andrew Stanford
As for me, if I could find some people whom I could talk to about art, who felt for it and wanted to feel for it – I should gain an enormous advantage in my work – I should feel more myself, be more myself. —Vincent van Gogh
If van Gogh had come to Community Life Drawing, he would have met his tribe, artists who enjoy talking about and feeling art. Inspired by a former Memphian, now New Yorker, Michael Hilderbrand, friends were eager to create the same casual drawing opportunities they saw Michael experiencing all over NYC – life drawing groups with nude and semi-nude models several times a month at different locations.
Memphis had nothing like that. MCA had closed the door to the community for their monthly life drawing class before discontinuing it all together and the only other midtown group disbanded before the Broad Avenue reboot. Though there was a community drawing group out in Bartlett, it was not inclusive. A few friends created a one- time-only life drawing event to coincide with one of Michael’s visits, but it never came to fruition.
Facebook chatter ensued and, after several months of sporadic work and communication, artist Jeff McMillan agreed to make a Facebook group and post an event, Life Drawing Memphis Style. From the first event to today, the group has grown and brought together artists who have built an island of support. At its successor, Community Life Drawing (CLD), people come to draw and leave with a better sense of self.
The first drawing group met at Heather Tahler’s. There were no drawing horses or a model
stand, but there was always a model and a convivial spirit despite a wide range of skills and experience.
Parri Davis came to the first draw and hasn’t missed one since. “It was great to have
a chance to get back into drawing…and get to know other artists.” CLD persisted with a dedicated core group of about five artists. As the group waxed and waned, Chris Fivash suggested a consistent meeting day and a new public space. The group settled on meeting the first Monday of the month and Amurica owner Jamie Harmon graciously agreed to let them use his space if it were not already booked. With increased space and a relatively consistent meeting day, the group grew.
Andrea Kent was introduced to the sessions through Davis. Since graduating from MCA, Kent found the opportunity to draw models had been rare and saw this group as a chance to ‘dust off the cobwebs’. “The most surprising thing I’ve found about the group is [the] diversity of artists. My favorite thing is how accepting, warm, and welcoming everyone
is and the encouragement I receive. It’s for all those reasons that I come back,” Kent said.
During the months at Amurica, the group grew and coalesced thanks to word of mouth, social media and a presence on the Arts Memphis calendar. Unfortunately after about a year, Harmon let the group know they would need to find a new location; Amurica was closing. The search for another meeting space ensued and after more than a few dead ends, Cory Elder, and Andrew and Maddie Miller at The Artists Commons (TAC) responded that they would be interested in offering space.
When McMillan met with Elder at TAC for the first time and shared the vision of CLD (monthly drawing, eventually weekend intensive draws and maybe guest artist or models), Elder eagerly offered the space for a year with opportunities to expand. TAC provided the space, built a model stand, and secured drawing horses and art boards in a cooperative move with Scott Street Arts.
The group decides each month how many poses they want, but most often there are short warm-up gestures and then two 30-minute poses. The last 10 minutes are reserved for voluntary critique, that sweet time when supportive humans exchange energy and ideas that sustain their practice until the next draw.
CLD has started a second draw each month. They now meet at TAC, 139 S. Scott Street. first Mondays, 6:30 – 9 p.m., and third Sundays, 3 – 5:30 p.m. Join them, they’ve got a space saved for you.