The name of Euan Uglow, who died last year, was held in reverence by some models, but to others it evoked only pain and resentment. Euan was notorious for keeping some of his female models in excruciating poses for years and he was unforgiving of those who failed him. In the case of at least one member of the Register, it's best to stay off the subject of Euan Uglow altogether. But ELAINE MAFFRETT was obviously made of sterner stuff, judging by this warm account of modelling for The Pyramid.
I sat for Euan between summer 93 and March 96. The first few weeks were
spent sketching but I knew Euan had a definite idea of what image he
wanted and very soon I began sitting for what was to become The Pyramid.
Like with any pose it initially seemed easy to sustain and one I could
relax into, but sometimes it would become unbearable.
Each session was three hours long and I would go to his studio in Wandsworth at least once a week - sometimes three. When I sat Euan would remark that it took at least 40 minutes for me to settle into the pose and my knees and back to lower to the correct level. I would aim to sustain the pose for at least 30 minute stints, Euan gave me a small clock that I could keep an eye on, tucked away from his view. Then I'd take a break for 5-10 mins, we'd chat and have a cigarette.
At the begining of most sessions I couldn't sit for more than 20 mins - but by the last hour I could get up to 45. On a good day! A bad day was mostly directed by the weather. For Euan much would depend on the light, from the skylights and a window that looked out onto a brick wall about 12 feet away. This wall would reflect light back into the room, so the room never seemed directly hit by sunlight, just its effects. I became very aware of the differences and still recognise certain days as ones that Euan would find perfect for painting.
For me it was always cold in there, even with a radiator and a blow heater in extreme circumstances. Remaining still while being naked will always make you feel cold unless it's on a sunny beach.... and that was something Euan would definitely try to dissuade you from doing. When the summer came he'd find it exasperating when you turned up glowing from the sun and he dreaded it when I went abroad. As well as being away for a few weeks his work wouldn't be able to truly get going again until the tan faded. Although I do think he found the 'tan lines' interesting and how they fitted into his scheme of measurements.
Another thing worth a note, (along the same lines!) is that he'd often mark, in biro, dots and dashes on my skin, just like you can see in the picture. I'd then have to keep these marks between sessions, I'd have to ask my partner or friend to highlight them each day. Over the three years some would disappear and others would come about.
Euan was a fascinating person who I took great pleasure in sharing time with. I am not from an artistic background and we came from completely different worlds. During this time I took an Open University course in Modern Art and felt very priviledged to discuss aspects with him, going off afterwards across the river to The Tate or on to the The National to look at a certain painting he'd have suggested, then chatting about it at the next session. He'd sometimes say that if I'd lived a hundred years ago it would have been the life of a lady of leisure. I'd correct him and say if I had, I would have been a wench, a pickpocket, a drunk, a domestic....
When he finally said the painting was finished despite being so thankful it was at last over, I could have almost said "let's do another" just to continue the routine of going to see him, as I knew I wouldn't get to otherwise. But it was great to be free of the responsibility and a few months after I became pregnant.
I saw Euan at his Exhibition at Browse & Darby a year later just after my daughter was born. I have a 10 x 8 b/w photo of the painting and a colour print - cut out from the Observer's review and article about the exhibition. This is proudly framed! I await the day The Tate, or such like, issues a glossy full size poster!! I think a private collector probably bought it so sadly I may never see it again.
[Webmaster's request: If anyone has any idea what happened to 'The Pyramid', please email me with the info.]
Here are some of her memories of posing for it.
It was the only time I've been a model and I found it fascinating. It was the first time I met what I would call a REAL artist, someone obsessed with their pursuit of... I'm not sure what, capturing some illusive second in time, which doesn't actually exist. I remember he was working on a small painting of a pear, and I could not get my head round what pear he was actually drawing, because the specimen marked and plumblined was the most severely decomposed I had ever seen, and yet he was trying to capture a ripe pear. I quizzed him so much that he gave me the pear for Christmas! I treasure it as a lesson in the concept that he did not paint to produce pictures, but that they were by-products of his quest to capture the perfect fall of light. It was also very liberating for me as a woman to be naked and yet feel completely comfortable, being viewed in a completely different way from how society normally judges the female form. So it was a unique and quite bizarre relationship in my life, travelling to Clapham three days a week and chatting naked to someone who seemed to see the rest of life as an unwelcome distraction from his work, someone who I came to consider as a close friend.