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Destler Dodge

There's a room on the inside of the Hungerford Building filled with images of nude women hanging from the walls. Although this may give it some similarity to an adult store, it is anything but. It's the studio of the Group in the Loop, an organization of artists who have maintained the tradition of figure drawing and painting for three decades now, where they often create images based on models posing in the nude. It is a tradition that is the opposite of conventional because here, the nude form which is so easily sexualized and reacted to with unease, is looked at quite differently.

Michelle, who works as one of the groups' models, talked about why she  started modeling. "I was trying to think of myself as not just a sexual being." Citing the media's portrayal of women as the cause, she added "As a young woman, it's hard not to do that."

The experience of being "completely naked in front of other people" for art rather than a sexual encounter helped give Michelle a new perspective on her own body, she explained.

Artists and members of the Group in the Loop Axel Kairies, Irv Pudetti, Todd Ryan and Enrique Viturro commented on what got them interested in the art form. "Figure painting is the most difficult and elevated part of the arts," Viturro said. "You have to capture the soul of the person," he explained. "Something that is hidden for other people.

Drawing the human figure is one of the most difficult and intimate aspects of the arts. The artists' search to blend his or her own style with the essence of the subject only makes the art more challenging. "You may succeed or not," Viturro said.

Like any activity, the artists at the Group in the Loop share the experience of progressing, finding their style and reaching new milestones through the ups and downs along the way. "Not every week is the same," Ryan said. "Some of them are terrible, and other days things are happening." 

But while some people find the human form beautiful and relish the challenge of recreating it, many are put-off by it. The artists mentioned some of the apprehension facing the art of figure drawing and painting. "A lot of people won't look at it," Pudetti said.

Why people are made uncomfortable by the human body is difficult to say. Whatever the reason, though, there are certainly some benefits to getting comfortable with the human figure.   

"It strengthens your ability to see," Kairies said.

Pudetti shared a similar opinion, saying "I can see things in other people that other people don't see."

Figure drawing sessions usually last for hours, during which at some point the artists begin to "see" more than what they are looking at. They pick up the facial expressions of their subject, the faintest movements, the tiniest aspects of a person, what makes them tick, and through their studies they understand a little more about human nature. Ryan put the concept into perspective. "We're looking at people more than just like when you walk down the street and see a thousand people, but you actually see nobody ... You study somebody and you look at them in ways you don't look at normal people." When the artists are working in their studio, they see details of a person that we don't have the time or scrutiny to take in during our daily lives.

This studying of the human form is accompanied by an appreciation of the human body that is completely different than what is exposed to us on a day-to-day basis. In figure drawing, the body is no longer a sexual object or a vessel meant to carry us around, but rather a window into a person's character. It is this appreciation of the human body that has helped Michelle conquer the portrayal by the media and look at her body from a different perspective. Figure drawing is about more than the beauty of the human body, it's about seeing the human form in a new light and trying to understand what makes us who we are.