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Friday, August 12, 2022

‘Inviting the Gaze’: Figure on Diversity spotlights diverse bodies with outdoor drawing series

Figure Drawing in the Parks will host bi-monthly sessions through April

Amarisa Harrison-Conwill, (left) 5, and her father Mo Harrison-Conwill (right) draw during the 40th Downtown Festival & Art Show at Bo Diddley Plaza on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. "Daddy's an artist," Amarisa said.
Amarisa Harrison-Conwill, (left) 5, and her father Mo Harrison-Conwill (right) draw during the 40th Downtown Festival & Art Show at Bo Diddley Plaza on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. "Daddy's an artist," Amarisa said.

As a figurative artist pursuing an undergraduate degree at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Lesley University, Angela DeCarlis was always craving “new problems to solve” and “new bodies to draw.” The latter, however, was more difficult than they expected. 

In 2018, while figure modeling in Boston and moderating a Facebook group of local models, DeCarlis was confronted with a jarring realization. The group, both online and in the art studio, was fairly homogenous. 

Despite their impression that the art world constantly sought diversity, the figure models rarely reflected this desire. Instead, most models were white, thin, athletic, visibly able-bodied and female. 

Faced with this reality, DeCarlis, 28, started Figure on Diversity that same year, a project dedicated to bringing diversity to the field of figure drawing and art education as a whole. 

DeCarlis is continuing the program in Gainesville as they complete the third and final year of their MFA program at UF’s College of the Arts. Figure on Diversity held its first Gainesville event, a seven-hour workshop, in June. 

This Sunday, Figure on Diversity launched Figure Drawing in the Parks. The outdoor figure drawing series invites individuals of any artistic experience to come out to a Gainesville park every first and third Sunday of the month through April 17. The series started outside Bo Diddley Plaza at the Downtown Festival & Art Show on Sunday with a two-hour figure drawing session featuring two models. 

In order to promote access and inclusion in the arts, each model will belong to one or more marginalized identities, including people of color and individuals who are fat, gender-expansive or visibly disabled. Sessions will last three hours, models will be clothed and drawing tools and paper will be provided at no cost. 

All sessions on the first Sunday of the month will take place at Depot Park, located at 874 SE Fourth St. Those on the third Sunday will take place at multiple outdoor locations that have not yet been announced. 

By spotlighting diverse models — and doing so in public spaces — DeCarlis, who identifies as queer, nonbinary and invisibly disabled, said the series seeks to bring figure modeling into the community’s sphere of awareness. 

“Most of what we do as figurative artists and figure models happens behind closed doors, often in institutions that require quite a lot of privilege to access,” they said. “I’m excited about Figure Drawing in the Parks because the events will be free, open to the public and visible, and I really hope that folks feel welcome when they see us.”

Figure Drawing in the Parks eliminates some of the barriers that make it difficult for individuals of visibly marginalized identities to get involved in figure modeling in the first place. 

Most figure drawing sessions expect models to pose upon a pedestal, precluding the possibility of models in wheelchairs or other mobility aids. Many institutions also book figure models as either “male” or “female,” making it difficult for nonbinary or transgender models to enter the field. 

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But while these barriers could essentially be eliminated with small changes, others run deeper. 

“What happens when all of your students and all of your faculty are white people?” DeCarlis said. “Do you really expect the only person of color in the room to also be naked? It’s an incredibly socially vulnerable situation, and it’s a risk I don’t think most people want to take.” 

Figure modeling is a deeply intimate position but also a very healing one, said Ally Larned, 22, who graduated from UF this year with a studio art degree. 

“Every insecurity that you have is out there, and you’re intimately aware of people making eye contact with every inch of your body,” they said. “But it’s also really empowering seeing the way people treat your body like art and something worth being drawn.” 

Larned, who identifies as a non-cis-passing nonbinary individual, found Figure on Diversity through DeCarlis, who was both their classmate and teaching assistant while at UF. Larned was slated to be one of two models at the Downtown Festival & Art Show figure drawing session Saturday afternoon before the first day of the festival was canceled due to rain. 

Figure Drawing in the Parks, DeCarlis said, represents a post-pandemic shift in the figure modeling world. 

Typically, figure artists are instructed to draw only from life, which became difficult amid COVID-19 protocols. Suddenly, figure modeling took to the Internet, and a global community of amateur artists came together via Zoom and other online spaces. Outdoor figure drawing was the natural next step. 

DeCarlis said they encourage participants to focus less on the product of their work and more on the process of capturing the model’s image. Truly seeing someone in this way, they said, is the first step toward understanding each other.

“In the paradigm of figure drawing, there is a model who is inviting the gaze and who is inviting you to pay attention to what they look like and how they are,” DeCarlis said. “Once that body ends up on paper, the artwork carries those benefits.” 

Figure Drawing in the Parks is a GNV ART JAM supported by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department. Individuals interested in modeling with Figure on Diversity can reach out on Instagram at @figureondiversity or by email at figureondiversity@gmail.com. The rate for Figure Drawing in the Parks is $20 per hour. The next outdoor drawing session will take place at Bo Diddley Plaza on Nov. 21.

Contact Veronica Nocera at vnocera@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @vernocera.

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Veronica Nocera

Veronica Nocera is a first-year Journalism major with a History minor. This is her first semester on staff for The Alligator, where she works as Avenue News Assistant. She also writes for Rowdy Magazine. 


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