Felix Carroll: Standing very still and loving it — a day in the life of a nude art model
STOCKBRIDGE — Standing steady as stone, like a Renaissance statue with movable lips, Paul Cronin hears artist Joan Rooks behind him blowing her nose. He cannot help but to offer some friendly advice.
"At the first sign of a cold, have vitamin C and Echinacea on standby, and hammer it with everything you've got," he says, still holding his pose. "And make sure you cover your head. That's the simplest, low-tech method to bypass or minimize a cold."
So says the naked guy in the drafty, old art school.
Because someone has to do it and because a man needs to make a living, Cronin has been disrobing in the name of fine art since the 1970s. Go ahead and multiply roughly 32 hours a week by four-plus decades by thousands of artists. Cronin has. He estimates there have been some quarter million renderings of his lean nakedness.
He owns a few of them, gifts from the artists. He keeps them rolled up in a closet under his stairwell. One, drawn years ago by the now famous Jerome Witkin, is probably worth something.
It's 6 p.m. on Monday, and Cronin has spent the afternoon naked at a Williams College drawing class. Now he's here in the drawing room at IS 183 Art School for three hours of posing on a platform beside a space heater at the weekly open studio.
His clothes hang upon an easel. His shoes are set tidily together in a corner with his socks draped loosely across them. Cronin has taken his position in the center of the room doing what he's become famous for in art circles within an hour radius of Albany: He is keeping perfectly still.
While some models choose to sit sensibly and comfortably, he is known and beloved for his grand athletic gestures, typically of a tennis-player variety. Right now his arms are extended, his torso twisted, legs crisscrossed, one hand clenched and the other opened. He holds this pose for more than a half hour before taking a break.
"You develop a tolerance for discomfort," he says, as the scratching sound of artist implement upon paper surrounds him.
Oddly enough, he says the "most difficult" pose for him is when he's tasked to stand beside a model skeleton, as he is from time to time.
"It's difficult in the sense that I have to restrain myself from not doing something more inventive and interesting," he says.
Here's a question: While he's up there posing, what if he gets an itch?
Mind over matter.
Unless it's really itchy, in which case he scratches and then resumes his pose like nothing happened.
He's a former wrestler, a former track and fielder. He keeps fit with yoga and dance. He keeps financially fit by supplementing his modeling income as an office organizer and a pianist at parties, farmers markets and business functions, tasked with playing background music.
During a break Monday evening, Cronin says he can't quite remember the very first time he stripped down and stood in front of artists.
"I'm sure if you put me under hypnosis, I'd probably be able to recall."
It was in his native Albany. He's sure of that. He was probably nervous. He still gets nervous in front of groups he's never been with before. But the nerves dissipate after a few warm-up gestures, he says.
"When I'm up there, it's not about me," he says. "They're not drawing `me.' That's what you quickly learn. They're drawing everyman. They're drawing themselves to a certain extent. This is about self-knowledge to a certain extent."
He does recall years ago eventually having to explain his vocation to his Catholic parents. With naked cherubs in mind, he simply said to them, "Can you say, `Sistine Chapel?'" and that pretty much ended the conversation.
"Maybe they didn't think it was the most exciting thing," he recalls.
But to Cronin, now in his 60s, it's been a good life: Decent wages (between $20 and $25 an hour), working in a creative atmosphere, meeting many interesting people, and plenty of work, since apparently not many people feel called to semi-public nudity.
"I'm not an exhibitionist," he says. "I don't go to nudist colonies or anything."
For artists, drawing a live model is still the preference over, say, drawing a vase with flowers or a fruit bowl. Rendering flesh, muscle and bone is the artist equivalent of musical scales. You gotta do it and do it often.
"If you can draw people, you can draw anything," says Jeff Kramer, an artist from Housatonic who's a regular here on Monday nights.
Cronin prefers conversation when he's modeling. Sometimes he gets it; other times not.
"This is Artie Shaw's theme song, `Midnight' something or other," he says of the music playing in the background.
Later, Miles Davis is performing "Porgy and Bess."
"Interesting tidbit," Cronin says. "Miles Davis went to Julliard for a year. He got an A in piano and I think a C in trumpet. Whoever heard of Miles playing piano?"
No takers on conversation at the moment. The artists have withdrawn within their drawings. Cronin, with a broom stick upon his shoulders, one hip high, one shoulder low, has presented himself as a puzzle to be solved.
Short of conversation, jazz provides good brain food, he says. For a short time years ago he tried meditating while modeling, but he would get sleepy and start nodding off mid-pose.
During another break on Monday he says he's overdue to binge on books on sports, ballet and Renaissance artwork for inspiration on poses. He prides himself on keeping things interesting. Sometimes, to shake things up in a class that seems bored, he employs his yoga skills and stands on his head, a pose that he calls "pedagogically cool" because of what it does to a body's muscles.
"How's the temperature, Paul?" Rooks asks him before he takes to the platform for the final hour.
"Fine," he says. "Perfect."
He sips some water and then steps back up. The artists have their pencils and charcoal in hand and blank pieces of paper before them. His hands on his hips, Cronin is thinking what to do. He circles around then stops.
"Hm," he says.
He circles again. Then, in an instant, he strikes a pose — like he's chasing a ball that's just this side of out of bounds.
Felix Carroll is The Eagle's community columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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