Artists Go Back to School for Will Cotton’s ‘Take Home a Nude’ Drawing Party

Nude models and hors d'oeuvres make a great combination.

Will Cotton draws a model at his drawing party for the New York Academy of Art's "Take Home a Nude" auction. Courtesy New York Academy of Art.

It was an unusual scene at the Meatpacking District’s Highline Stages on September 26, where some 30 artists, including Ryan McGinness, Nicole Eisenman, and Kalup Linzy, could be found posted up at easels, sketching and drawing as live models posed and waiters passed out cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. If it all sounds like some kind of bizarro art school, there’s a reason for that: the evening was being hosted by New York-based artist Will Cotton to generate artworks for the New York Academy of Art’s 25th annual “Take Home a Nude” auction.

The event, now in its ninth year, has its roots in a drawing group that Cotton began hosting at his home in 2002. He was working on a series of figurative works, and “it dawned on me that I was really rusty,” Cotton told artnet News. Having last done figure drawing at art school (he graduated New York’s Cooper Union in 1987 and also attended the academy), he decided it was time to reincorporate the live model into his practice.

“Live models are 3-D. Photographs are not. It’s not a small difference,” Cotton said. “There’s really something in meditative process of staring at the model.”

In order to make sure he committed to the idea, Cotton decided to turn the drawing session into a party with other artists, which soon became a weekly event. The drawing group eventually became such a hit that Cotton had to scale back, inviting fewer people so he didn’t have to spend the night opening the door for new arrivals.

“It’s a nice way for us to get together,” Cotton explained, noting that “artists have very solitary days for the most part.”

At Highline Stages, the evening did have a festive feel, with noted PR maven April Hunt spinning tunes from a walkway above the artists. Participants could choose from models holding five-minute poses, 20-minute poses, or a single pose for the entire night.

An art school grad myself, I eased back into the saddle with a handful of five-minute poses before trying one of the 20-minute sessions. It had been over nine years since I last took a figure drawing class, and the charcoal felt unfamiliar in my hand. While I wasn’t fully satisfied with my results, it was a transporting experience, reminding me of all the reasons I fell in love with art in the first place—and how I wound up, however circuitously, in the career I have today.

I imagine there were others who hadn’t done this in a while, but all around me the results were impressive, especially compared to my unpracticed efforts. The human body is a compelling subject, and the drawings done from life seemed to have an essential spark and liveliness that is difficult to fake.

“Part of the beauty of it is how everyone’s approaching the same pose so differently,” said Cotton. He began teaching at the academy in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he proposed incorporating his drawing sessions into the institution’s annual “Take Home a Nude” auction.

For David Kratz, the academy’s president, the resulting works always stand out at the benefit auction. “These are drawings that are very expressive, beautiful, and obviously spontaneous,” he told artnet News. “When you seem them all together, it’s like looking at a many-sided jewel. Each one is like the artist’s handwriting.”

The New York Academy of Art’s “Take Home a Nude” auction will be held at Sotheby’s New York, 1334 York Avenue, New York, October 24, 2016.

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