Manhattan. A relatively small island, but like the Maltese Falcon, the stuff of dreams, the stuff of memory.
I am in a drawing class at the Art Students’ League, that sprawling behemoth of skylit studio spaces and turpentine-scented corridors where during the past hundred years every American artist has at least visited. I am in my Durer/Leonardo phase, executing crosshatched precise anatomical studies in sepia ink and crow-quill pen, working with that speed only youth can support. The League is always warm to accommodate the nude models and because every studio is packed with bodies, artists often struggle to peer over one another for a better view. A wonderment of disorder. I am a small person, sitting calmly in the front row, drawing board on my lap, intent on my work. I am accustomed to the bustle of the League and can sit or stand my ground against all intruders to my space --- I’m a street-fighter, elbowing the unwary as if I were on the subway. (After all, my work is stellar and I, the enfant terrible, am fully cognizant of my own prowess.)
I am deep in concentration, executing the tendon of the tibialis anticus to perfection --- I confess to a fascination for this particular ankle structure. As the sea of bodies parts, an energetic whirlwind skuffles to a front-row easel. I continue my work and refuse to allow the trespasser an inch. My little bottle of sepia ink (handground by me in the methods of the masters) is in mortal danger, but I hang on and glance up at the bedraggled mess beside me.
The man is elderly to my youthful eyes, perhaps one of those mid-life-crisis artists on the prowl for a stray hippie-chick and yes, there is even a trenchcoat tossed haphazardly onto the folding chair. I bristle and become further enraged when the man strips down to his wife-beater undershirt, rams a giant pad of expensive rag paper (They don’t come any larger!) onto the easel, partially obscures my view of the model, whips out the charcoal, and ‘warms up’ to the pose, drawing as physical exercise, beads of sweat flying, dappling my own precious work.
I harrumph, he grumbles an apology, and there is something oddly familiar in his tone. For the remainder of the session, he continues to sweat, I continue in my precision, having long ago left behind the drawing-101 phase of loosening up. He flips through that giant pad so quickly that I’m surprised the breeze doesn’t cool him off. He is dedicated, I give him that, but his product is no more than hen scratches to my eye. After the final pose, in re-assembling himself, he finally manages to upset my ink bottle, mumbles “Sorry” and I sidestep out as quickly as I can. I hear the other students muttering, “Do you know who that is? That’s Peter Falk.”
A fine actor and a decent human being, and from what I’ve recently seen, ultimately a much-improved artist. The world has indeed lost a mensch.
Causes Mara Buck Supports
Kennebec Valley Humane Society, Amnesty International