Mt. Fuji from above.
When I was learning to draw, I couldn’t wait to draw nudes. In high school, my art teacher set up a still life in the middle of the room which included a headless, armless manikin draped in a shawl. My drawing was excluded from the parent-teacher night exhibition because it included just the hint of a plastic nipple. I drew portraits of my friends and family. I drew self portraits. I drew that little wooden posable drawing model. We posed in drawing class for each other- in the middle of the room- but I struggled to make the arms and legs and bodies fit together. I felt like- if I could only draw someone with their clothes off- I could finally figure out how to make it work. Portraits and figure drawings were the things I cared about most. And I had some romantic idea about drawing and painting nudes- like it was a right of passage for an artist that I couldn’t wait to reach. It was like some bohemian ideal- something real grown up artists did- like smoking pot and drinking wine and talking into the night.
Finally I made it to art school- but even then I’d have to wait another year before being allowed to take a figure drawing class. Foundation Drawing came first- two semesters of drawing straight lines, and squares, and cubes in perspective in boot-camp style training taught by an ex-marine. We gradually worked our way up to squashes and ginger root- and those squashes and ginger roots were in perfect perspective and held all the energy and passion of a year’s work.
Fall semester of my sophomore year I finally was allowed to take Figure Drawing I. Judith Bernstein led the class. I think we called her ‘Judy’ but probably never to her face. She wore her curly black hair in an angular bob. She wore black mini skirts and leggings and brightly colored high top rebock sneakers. Our list of art supplies included a six-foot long board of foam core, rolls of drawing paper, masking tape, pencils of all kinds, and india ink (or maybe I just happened to have some india ink which I stole from my mom’s calligraphy supply stash in her art supply closet).
She made us draw big- figure drawings as large as the figure itself- which I loved. I loved how much room it gave me to find the right lines and angles. And she encouraged us- which was radical and affirming after a year of boot camp in the foundation program- where I had been beaten down and made to feel like i probably didn’t even deserve to hold a pencil. Judy would have us hang our drawings up for critique every day- and she would positively gush with praise. Looking at these awkward attempts at making all the human parts fit together- I wondered what she’d do if one of us actually came out with a “good” drawing. Would she do cartwheels? Would she explode?
My roommate and best friend, Amber, started modeling for her class. It was wonderful. She was so beautiful and romantic. Right about that time, I met the Long Island artist and portrait painter, Marcus Blahove. He used to paint portraits of children including my aunt. He very kindly gifted me with a large quality set of portrait pastels. In Judy’s class, I made large ink and pastel portraits of Amber. Washes of blue ink- with light blue and pink highlights. I loved making them just as much as I loved Amber. We would go back to our apartment and hang them around the dining room- something that my father found somewhat disconcerting when he’d come to visit- particularly the drawing entitled “the crotch shot” which was hung just at eye level.
One day- while drawing and painting in Judy’s class- on my large paper sheet taped up to my foam core board- with blue washes of ink and pink pastels- the Dean of the college came through our classroom. I was proud of my drawing and worked even more diligently under his watch. I heard the dean say, “do you think it’s such a good idea to let them use color yet?” I’m so thankful that Judy did. She was a shining light in a faculty and program that emphasized discipline over experimentation. In her class- the arts could be playful and beautiful and exciting- and that didn’t make it any less serious.
One day- a male friend of mine modeled for my class. He was someone I had met walking around campus- and interesting person to talk to but we never got particularly close. When he took off his clothes- I discovered that he was beautiful. Under those dingy jeans and that baggy flannel- he had toasty almond perfect skin and lovely rippling abs. We took a drive together during our lunch break and ate burritos before coming back to class. He never modeled again- and I never again saw him naked.
I never thought of Judy Bernstein as a feminist. In my college, liberal was the default. We worked so hard on learning to see- and learning to make our hands make marks that transformed the outside world into a representation of reality- that there wasn’t much time left for protest or social critique. I was busy enough at the time balancing school and parenting my pre-schooler, while also struggling to learn how to live on my own and develop a social life. I had come to school interested in social justice and activism- but there just wasn’t enough time to do it all.
The art program at Purchase had several strong female art instructors, and many of our instructors had studied nearby at Yale. This was something that made me feel both proud and resentful- we had top notch instructors at state school prices- but our discount education lacked the brand name appeal. Our models were male and female- beautiful and ugly- young and old. Drawing, and later painting, the figure was an important part of becoming an artist. I felt that if I could learn to really draw and paint people well- I could draw and paint anything. That’s what I wanted more than anything- to refine my skills and develop my voice as an artist.
I came across references to Judith Bernstein on an art blog that I visited recently- and I was so happy to see my old instructor receiving recognition! Some google searches led to more articles- like this one: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2013/02/artseen/judith-bernstein-hard-2
It talks about what it was like for her in the 60’s as a female art student. As a feminist in a male-dominated art world. I don’t remember her ever talking about this- but I do know for sure that she taught her class the way classes should be taught. In her brightly colored reboks- she walked the walk- and for that I’m grateful.
A re-creation of the Saks Fifth Avenue window display by Schwartz 2013
I was walking through the upper class shopping district of San Francisco and saw these window displays and thought “What would they look like if I was their window display artist?” So i re-imagined them.
The photos are used to show how Saks Artists rendered their displays.
These drawings are in no way affiliated with Saks Fifth Avenue or the designer’s featured.
“Wanting to kiss my boyfriend who doesn’t touch me (I’m gonna love you until i die)” 2012 by Schwartz