As follows is the second part of a two-part story that is extracted from an article written by me for the Comox Valley magazine, In Focus. This part concerns the life and work of a male model who is carrying out a family tradition of modeling.
On the male side of the equation – for males are as much part of the modeling process as females – is Michael Ward. He is comfortable with his last name being used as his reputation as an in-demand model is widespread, not only throughout Vancouver Island, but elsewhere in the province, and indeed nationally.
Michael has been a nude (and sometimes draped) model for countless artists and photographers for 35 years. He is also a follower of a family tradition as his mother and grandmother were both nude models. His grandmother actually modeled for A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven, so Michael’s connectedness is profound.
“My mother was a model, I am a model and now my two youngest sons are models,” he says. “Modeling is more a lifestyle choice than a job for me – where everything I do is centered around modeling in some form or another. I like to imagine that I’ll still be modeling when I’m in my 90s. Why not? Wrinkles are cool to draw. Imagine looking at drawings of me in my teens and then to me in my 90s. Now that would be a true life model.”
Oh, and just in case the modeling hits lean times, or he’s in a place where there is low-demand for his skills and discipline, he’s also a land-surveyor.
“Mother was an art teacher,” he says. “I grew up in wall-to-wall drips of oil paints and there were nudes running through the house all the time when I was a kid. It didn’t bother me at all and this was back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I had my first modeling gig when I was 15. I didn’t find it an odd thing to do because I was so used to it. This isn’t bad, I thought; this is freeing.”
What is the role of the model in relation to the artist, as he sees it?
“An exchange takes place between the model and the artist. The artist sees me for who I really am – there are no secrets here, no hidden agenda. To thine own self be true is particularly true for the art model. If I’m in a lousy mood, these emotions will be picked up by the artist, not unlike a magnet, and their work will reflect these emotions. An experienced art instructor/artist such as Bill Porteous is able to side-step projected emotions and see the inner model, whereas a less experienced artist might be caught off guard.
As was asked of the female models, Michael was asked how he deals with long poses, surely the most demanding aspect of the model’s calling.
“I go into a near-trance for long poses,” he says. “Modeling takes away all of my stress and it leaves me feeling refreshed with a tremendous feeling like Nirvana coming over me. I am totally in tune with my body. It’s like doing meditation or inner tai-chi. Depending on the music being played or even the silence, I have fought bulls in Spain, danced with queens at royal balls, knelt at the feet of the Pope, climbed Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary and cried at the funeral of my sister.”
One of the real bonuses in modeling for Michael is that he has been able to acquire a considerable collection of art works in the process of interacting with both notable and talented beginning artists.
“I’ve said to artists, if you want me to model, then give me art,” he says. “There have been times in which I have said no to money, and yes to works of art. And some of the artwork features me, which is gratifying. As it stands, I am represented in drawing books and there is a life sculpture of me in Victoria (where he resides and is in big demand). Virtually every artist in Victoria knows me, and that’s only to my advantage.”
That life sculpture, by the way, is in front of the Victoria police station showing the character depicted by Michael holding up a pillar. The sculptor was Jay Unwin.
For a number of years – and it’s a memory that sticks fondly with Michael – he ran a life drawing ‘event’ in the south Island.
“It ran for five years and it was sort of a ‘draw-a-thon’ in which we gathered 23 models and created what he calls a Cirque de Soliel of modeling in which the models and artists (noted, such as Robert Bateman, and fledgling to the tune of 300) came from all over.”
Unlike the female models profiled earlier, Michael does involve himself in the creative aspects of the field.
“I do draw and paint – obviously not as well as some of the people who do me, but I get a lot of pleasure from it,” he says. “I do have a BFA, and I’m also a surveyor and this has enabled me to survey by day and model in the evenings right across the country.”
On this part of Vancouver Island Michael has modeled at Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River, and models regularly in the Comox Valley. He also teaches modeling and is often asked to give tips to aspirant models.
“I suggest new models come out and watch me at art schools and pick up some techniques,” he says. “And my main instructions to new models include: Don’t rehearse; convey how you feel; don’t make eye-contact with the artists because it will break their concentration and it also can mean that the model will pick up negative feelings from the artist if that is the way he or she is feeling.”
Meanwhile, Michael says modeling continues to be a passion with him and he cannot imagine not doing it. Money, he says, is not an issue for him, and he gets his greatest joy from meeting struggling artists.
The top photograph of Michael is by Doug Gilbert, the second by Tom Gore, and the third is by myself of a drawing I did of Michael.