Nicole Eisenman: Figure Drawing “Atelier”
Apr 3, 2012

Artwork by Nicole Eisenman depicting a drawing class.

Nicole Eisenman, The Drawing Class, 2011. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 82 × 65 in. (208.3 × 165.1 cm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

On Friday, March 16, Biennial artist Nicole Eisenman hosted a figure drawing workshop in the Whitney’s Lower Gallery. In conjunction with Biennial 2012, the Museum’s public programs staff asked five exhibiting artists to create unique evenings of performance, discussion, demonstration, and engagement to explore the key aspects of their practice and vision that defined their unique contributions to this exhibition. Mirroring the activity depicted in her work The Drawing Class (2011), Eisenman decided to introduce live nude models into the Museum’s galleries and lead an academic drawing class. As Eisenman’s own work is similarly rooted in figurative representation, she and her artist friends host similar gatherings to act as models for one another. A meticulous draftsman, she combines historical elements of painting—from Impressionism to modern art—with elements of popular culture. Her work often conveys her interest in the emotions of the human condition, exploring moments of isolation and detachment even in instances of lively social interaction.

A model poses in a gallery while a class sketches.

One of Eisenman’s selected professional figure models poses in the Whitney’s Lower Gallery, March 2012. Photograph by Tiffany Oelfke

Eisenman, who has taught figure drawing classes at Bard College and other universities, arranged the space with the typical trappings of a traditional artist’s studio, including easels, drawing boards, and charcoal. She also requested that the models’ stage be decorated with flowers, fabric, and other embellishments, elements that Eisenman felt represented the clichéd version of what a traditional figure-drawing class might include. She personally selected five models of diverse shapes and ethnicities, all of whom possessed the strong look she describes as “Amazonian.”

A sketch class at work depicting a model.

Eisenman offered creative and helpful instruction to her diverse audience, March 2012. Photograph by Tiffany Oelfke

While the event attracted many trained artists experienced with drawing models from life, Eisenman encouraged everyone to sketch, even those who came intending only to watch. She led the class energetically, first instructing the models to strike a series of quick, gestural poses that gradually extended to durations of five and ten minutes. While her own carefully selected playlist of music could be heard in the background, she moved around the space, offering words of encouragement and constructive suggestions. Known for her easy-going demeanor and sense of humor, Eisenman characteristically kept the atmosphere light and fun, at times asking each person to draw as if they were a bear or a robot. These unexpected instructions compelled the class to think critically about technique, as each character transformation required a change in grip, state of mind, and approach.  

A nude model poses in the gallery for a drawing class.

Although the class focused on Eisenman’s instructions while they sketched, the atmosphere in the Lower Gallery remained friendly and relaxed, March 2012. Photograph by Tiffany Oelfke

Although Eisenman quipped that she had not taught in a classroom setting for some time, her clear enthusiasm for the medium and practice of drawing ultimately engaged her entire audience, and undoubtedly contributed to the success and popularity of the event. Join us in the Lower Gallery on Friday, April 13 at 7:30 pm for the next program in this special series: Joanna Malinowska: Fieldwork, a collaborative performance with the Hungry March Band inspired by the artist’s interest in cultural anthropology.

By: Elizabeth Pisano, Education Intern