Last August I did some “life drawing” in the apartment-studio of a generous San Francisco artist, Robert Windle. In addition to offering interesting models, good food, and spare art supplies, Robert would always have music playing in the background. A good deal of it that August was Nina Simone, a more-than-pop artist, whose music has, not all that surprisingly, proved to endure.
Inspired by Robert’s example, when I returned to New York I, with good friends/fellow artists, slowly but surely began to develop an ever-evolving something, which includes life drawing, good food and music in my apartment-studio. And the singing of the late Nina Simone (1933-2003) continues to be heard.
Background music can get into both the model’s and the artists’ heads during life-drawing sessions. For an artist, the music may combine with the emanations from the model and his or her pose, and with what one may know about (or project onto) the model, and with the artist’s own feelings. Like many artists’ models, the model pictured above spends a lot of time in her own head (while modeling), and she has been modeling full-time, and nude, and underpaid, for three decades. There is a lot in her head, as there is in mine, and as there was in Nina Simone’s.
The verse quoted above is from the song Trouble in Mind, which was written by Richard M. Jones (1892–1945), who was also known as one of Louis Armstrong’s leading producers and as a supervisor in the production of “race” (African-American) records in Chicago. As for troubles in Simone’s mind, the Wikipedia biography provides a quick review of some of the obstacles she faced and some of her attitudes toward them.
I am intrigued, let’s call it, by a comment Simone made toward the end of her life, after she had moved to southern France. She was performing, presumably to a largely African-American audience, in Newark, New Jersey, and she told the crowd: “If you’re going to come see me again, you’ve got to come to France, because I am not coming back.” We may be coming to yet another moment in American history when serious artists—think James Abbott McNeill Whistler, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, James Baldwin—feel that exile is the best option.