A discovery of the life model at Warwick Arts Centre

Still Life, written and performed by Sue MacLaine, Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, May 4.

In life drawing, the model is usually silent. Except in the flesh, she or he does not speak. In Sue MacLaine’s dramatic evocation of the life of model Henrietta Moraes - model and muse to Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon - she gets to tell her tale.

It is a tale full of parties, drugs and lovers: the performance of chic. It is a tale of a person looking for herself in the images of others. The unique twist in this otherwise familiar scenario is that the audience helps to create some of those images, thus adding further obscurity and insight into the ‘real’ Henrietta Moraes.

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What do we see when we look at a model, either in the flesh or in the picture? Not the person who has a history and a future, who mvoes and interacts and wholse life is a mesh of stories. The ‘essence’ of a human being, arguably what a portrait is about, is only the creation of the artist, seen in their (usually masculine) eye and perhaps shared in ours. the model is never more hidden than when, as she is throughout most of this performance, she is naked.

Sue MacLaine’s show draws its inspiration from Henrietta Moraes’ autobiography. She adopts poses for us to draw, speaking in slow and graceful tones from a podium slightly above us. In the end her authority comes from her vulnerability and her honesty, particularly about the gulf that lies between the observer and the thing observed. “Draw me now,” she says, “and see if you can get beyond almost”.

Nick Le Mesurier