When Art Classes Went Online, This Kansas City Nude Art Model Went Global
Nude modeling is a classic component of art education. But when the coronavirus forced art educators to pivot, model Kent Van Dusseldorp had to, too.
For artists, one of the best ways to study the lines of the human body is to draw it from life, with a model posing in front of them. It's a centuries-old tradition that was recently disrupted, when the coronavirus shut down art classes and live drawing sessions. But artists have been finding ways to adapt by moving online and outside. An Kent Van Dusseldorp keeps them busy by taking off his clothes.
A couple weeks ago, Van Dusseldorp hosted a Zoom session on his computer in the living room of his south Kansas City home.
To set up the call, he wore a light blue robe and red-framed glasses. Behind him stood a white screen, a black backdrop and several props. A spotlight in the corner lit up the set. On his computer screen, eight artists waited with their sketch pads, ready to begin.
Then, Van Dusseldorp took off his robe, walked to the back of the room, and turned towards the camera — completely naked.
“When I model, it's almost like I'm an actor taking a role," Van Dusseldorp explained. "I'm the nude model posing. And so that kind of helps me just to sit here and relax and be still. This isn’t an egotistical thing, but I like my body structure and the angularity of it."
Van Dusseldorp is 66, and he’s been a nude art model for fourteen years now. It’s hard work. Drawing sessions often run three hours long. The key for him is finding a pose you can hold comfortably, but it has to be interesting too.
“Do something you normally would but then look at it and say, ‘How can I make this maybe a little more interesting?'" Van Dusseldorp said. "Maybe I put my arm up here and I twist my head a little further."
Van Dusseldorp usually poses for art students in studios and classrooms around town. But his work was interrupted this spring when the coronavirus shut down in-person teaching. When art classes moved online, he knew he had to find a way to start posing online, too. It’s changed the way artists see him.
“People who may have drawn me for ten or more years are like, ‘Oh wow, he's doing something different.’ And, 'Yeah, I want to draw Kent again; I don't care if I've drawn him a hundred times.' 'Hey, this is new and interesting,'” said Van Dusseldorp.
There's another big advantage to modeling on Zoom: Van Dusseldorp can pose for anyone around the world.
“Life drawing is so much about being in the real world and drawing somebody live," Van Dusseldorp says. "But this has really opened up drawing for a lot of people.
Nearly eight thousand miles away in Bhutan, 26-year-old Wang Rana Gurung joins Van Dusseldorp’s drawing group whenever he can. Bhutan is a country that borders Tibet in the Eastern Himalayas. Before meeting Van Dusseldorp, he’d never sketched a model without their clothes on.
“Here in my country, Bhutan, we never do posing nude," says Gurung. "Even if you do some kind of art classes or drawing sessions, we have the clothes on. So I have never tried a nude figure. It was always from a photo reference. So it was a very unique experience.”
And Gurung says it’s also been a chance to meet other artists and share what he’s learning.
“Some of the artists, they are comfortable sharing their work and they allow me to post it and credit them," says Gurung. "I find it very exciting, because I can share it with people here. I think more Bhutanese artists will be able to join in (the) future."
Closer to home, Van Dusseldorp also opened his backyard to life drawing sessions. He keeps the groups small, and he spaces out the chairs so artists can work at a safe distance from each other.
“There’s something about being outside and drawing," Van Dusseldorp said on a warm Friday in July. "It’s just a pleasant atmosphere. It helps that we’ve been cooped up. But regardless of that, people are out here and they’re like, ‘Oh this is great. This is great.”
Between poses, Van Dusseldorp likes to walk around to see how the artists are sketching him. He often gets very excited.
“Look at that," exclaimed Van Dusseldorp, picking up the sketchbook of one of the artists. "I love the background lines, horizontal. And I like how you just fit me on the page.”
Bernie Loomis is a retired electrician who likes to draw, and he also made use of the backyard session. He said he doesn’t mind Zoom sessions, but working alongside other artists helps him feel connected.
“You feed off of each other," Loomis said. "You get that bounce and that bounce back. So, beyond the fact that you just have a model and someplace to draw you find that you both inspire and are inspired by the people around you.”
For Loomis, learning how to draw from life is what it’s all about.
“When you start looking at the human body," Loomis mused, "yes, it’s a wonderful machine. Yes, it’s all this other stuff. But when you start looking at it and realizing that this is what we are— this is real.”
Van Dusseldorp says finding new ways to work with artists has been life-changing for him.
“This has really been an amazing time for me," says Van Dusseldorp. "I'm 66 and I've had a great career as a model, but I kind of thought my 20 minutes of fame was over. But I’m not on the way out. I’m here and I’m now and I’m doing stuff.”