Christmas Lights

JD King April 29, 2023

In the 1980s and continuing through the turn of the Century I worked with a model by the name of Melania Bruner.  I met her here at the University of Missouri when I first started my studies with Frank Stack and the faculty of the Art Department and had the pleasure of portraying her for several years.  Melania was an excellent model.  She was quite beautiful and a very sweet woman with a good sense of humor, style, and knew what we artists were trying to do.  She also showed up and showed up on time which was not necessarily typical behavior for a lot of the young women and the few men who modeled for us.   

I did several drawings of Melania and was always impressed with her strength in holding a pose for the twenty or thirty minutes we expected of the people posing for us.  She didn’t move.  Modeling is hard work.  I tried it once and understand what it is like trying to hold a pose and not move for an extended period of time.  One might think just standing or sitting in that position for twenty minutes wouldn’t be that big a deal but when you are actually doing it the minutes tend to stretch out into what seem like a lot longer than sixty seconds.  Melania was strong and committed to providing us with very good resource material. She was instrumental in my being able to draft some truly beautiful figure drawings.  I also did several paintings of her, some from life and some from photographs.  Those paintings and others I did at that time from the women who posed for me are some of the best work I have done.  

My favorite way of photographing models was with the use of Kodak slides.  This was before the advent of Digital cameras.  I used an old 35mm Minolta SLR with a portrait lens and got a lot of really nice material.  The color in those little translucent rectangles was quite wonderful and the ability to use a slide projector in shining the image on to a canvas made the replication of those images a simple process and quite faithful in representing color, shape and form.  I suppose one could say they gave literal meaning to the term, “Photorealism”.

My Master’s of Fine Art thesis was completely centered around the portrayal of the nude female.  In 2001 I had several shows of my work including my thesis show at the University of Missouri Art Department and as a result was awarded a Master’s of fine Arts degree in Watercolor and oil painting.  Melania and several other models were represented in those shows and I am quite happy with the knowledge that I portrayed those beautiful women with a sense of respect, dignity and admiration for their personalities and their courage to show themselves in a most basic, beautiful and vulnerable way to the community of art students, faculty and the people of Columbia.  

After graduating from the program at the University in 2001 I continued painting the figure but eventually I became involved in other subject matter and for several years did not paint the nude figure.  Landscape became more interesting to me as did still life and some work derived from my imagination.  When I did paint people it was mostly in the form of portraiture.

Just recently my wife suggested I revisit the nude figure seeing as I have a fairly extensive collection of slides that I took during my involvement with the women who modeled for the classes at the Art Department.  One of the galleries here in town has decided to do a show later this summer called, “Bare” and is accepting paintings of the nude figure.  I am going to submit two paintings inspired by a couple of slides I have of two models I worked with over twenty years ago and one of those women is Melania.  I am thoroughly enjoying an image of her that I am transforming from a slide into an oil painting.  In the slide and the ensuing painting she is standing in a darkly lit room wrapped in Christmas lights.  We shall see what happens.    

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