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Model Artist: Exhibition features work done at figure-drawing sessions

For 36 years, artist Eli Levin, who also paints under the name Jo Basiste, has had an open-door policy on his Santa Fe studio, first near Canyon Road and now in the Santa Fe Railyard. Beginning and experienced artists can wander in and learn about the discipline and joy of the professional work environment. Since 1969, Levin has made his studio space available for three figure-drawing sessions and one etching session each week at no cost to the participating artists other than the shared expense of paying the model.

"I love drawing and I think it's very good for artists," Levin explained. "I like artists who can draw. Plus, these groups and my etching group have been my social life. They're my main ways to be part of the art scene." Levin added that the figure drawing was good for his own work. "In the last year, I've been painting a lot of nudes out of my head, which I never could have done without those years of drawing."

Now, with work from those figure-drawing sessions as a vehicle, Levin's generosity is rippling outward through the community. A juried exhibition of approximately 40 works from artists participating in the figure-drawing groups opens tonight at Bass/Thomson Gallery and runs through Nov. 13.

"What (Levin has) done is pretty remarkable," Eric Thomson, a participant in the figure-drawing group since 1976, said of the drawing sessions. "Many young artists have gotten a great deal out of it over the years. They get to be part of a professional art milieu and occasionally get some advice."

Connected with the exhibition is an effort to raise money for ArtSmart, the wing of the Santa Fe Gallery Association that funds art supplies for elementary schools in Santa Fe. A percentage of each artist's exhibition fee is being donated, along with 30 percent of all sales from the exhibition and cash donations from the First National Bank of Santa Fe. Additionally, several artists - Basiste, Lyndall Bass, Michael Bergt, Geoffrey Laurence, Matthew Gonzales and Phyllis Sloane have donated works unrelated to the figure-drawing exhibition for a silent auction. All auction proceeds will go to ArtSmart.

The Levin Studio Groups Exhibit was curated by Bass and Laurence, two local artists not connected with the figure-drawing groups. "Drawing is as old as the hills - literally. The oldest drawings we know of at present are from 75,000 years ago, and in them we see humans depicted by other humans in line and tone," Bass and Laurence said in a statement on the exhibit. In their selections for the exhibit, Bass and Laurence noted, "some show anatomical correctness; others, emotional complexity. All share one thing: truthfulness of intention."

The exhibit is of works done in one of the three figure-drawing groups that meet in the Levin Studio on Tuesday mornings, Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. The Wednesday evening group, the longest running of the three, generally uses a series of quick "gesture poses" and a 45 minute pose for its 15 to 20 participants, Thomson said. The Tuesday morning group has a similar program. The Saturday morning group, which generally includes one or two sculptors, employs one three hour pose.

Santa Fe has a whole group of people who do figure modeling at an hourly wage for a partial living, Thomson said. The requirements are more than just good physical conditioning and an ability to hold a pose for hours. A good model must have some understanding of what the artists need, "It's tough work," he said. The artists participate for various reasons, he said. "Different people take different things from the group. There are some artists who are there to work on their approach to painting. Others, who don't paint in a figurative way at all, are there to work on drawing fundamentals. Still others are not practicing artists at all, but have been drawing from figures for years."



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