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Courtesy Cat McAteer

Nudity front and centre at figure-drawing event

By Rachel Woodward, March 8 2016 —

Abstract-intuitive Calgarian painter Deseré Pressey needed a way to bless her newly-inhabited studio in 2013.

“I invited a couple of close art friends over and we shut off all the lights. We had 300 candles and I hired a model and we surrounded her with candles. We had candles all around our easels so we could barely see our canvases or the paints we were working with. I brought in a harpist. She came in and played for us and then it was done — the studio was blessed. That was how Off-Beat started.”

Since that date, Pressey has crafted Off-Beat into a monthly figure-drawing event. Each intimate session features 20–30 artists working alongside live music and a guest photographer in different venues.

“The way that I throw events together is an art form,” she says.

The event soon became well known in the figure-drawing community for its varied take on nude art.

“When we started, I was throwing multiple models together and they would be interacting and touching and it kind of shook stuff up,” Pressey says. “[Once] I had five models all interlaced on the couch and you could barely tell whose limbs were whose. That was really different for the figure drawing community.”

Pressey thinks the multi-disciplinary combination of art forms gives Off-Beat its reputation as a strong creative outlet for artists around the city.

“You have a very sacred community and you feel like you’re not alone,” Pressey says. “You also have the autonomy where you can really experience the flow of making art in community without having to satiate the desire for conversation.”

The sessions are also open to writers and spoken-word artists.

Local band La Rougette, who performed at the 13th Off-Beat, had high praise for the event.


The figure drawing sessions feature live music and professional-grade photography alongside artists and models. // Courtesy Cat McAteer

“It was our favorite show. It was very special to be a part of that creative process,” band member Miriam Behman says.

Pressey believes each session’s music helps underscore the art.

“We are all looking at the models, surely, and we are all in the same space, but I think music reaches us all on a really deep level beyond mind and body,” she says. “I think the reason that I have music at the sessions is that it’s so nice for us all to be tethered in some way, and I think music provides that. It loosens you up. It loosens the soul.”

Off-Beat intentionally hosts their events in eclectic buildings. Past venues include an old slaughterhouse, a historical schoolhouse and the attic of a marble factory.

“The city is newer and it’s all starting. It feels like the arts and culture scene is starting to deepen and get some roots. It’s starting to cultivate and percolate and there are so many little happenings everywhere and it’s exciting,” Pressey says.

The models that pose for Off-Beat sessions say these events differ from their other work. Calgary model Willow Herzog says the experience is liberating.

“You are a universal form being looked at in a raw state,” Herzog says. “It’s like being a blank slate.”

Megan, a Calgary-based model who requested not to have her full name printed, is newer to the scene. She has only posed twice for figure drawing, most recently at an Off-Beat session.

“I thought it would be difficult for me to stand still for so long, but it ended up being a really fun challenge for my body,” she says. “I imagine other figure drawing sessions would be straightforward. You have artists, a model and a space. It’s quiet. But at Off-Beat, it has this sense of community and collaboration.”

As a beginner, Megan found nude modeling challenging, but quickly warmed up to the job.

“I feel the desire to be witnessed and to witness others in the unadulterated state. When somebody sees you nude, they’ve kind of seen most of you,” she says. “There’s things you can hide in your personality, but it seems like taking your clothes off in front of other people is this gigantic hurdle that you have to get over. But as soon as you’ve done it and you’re in this space, people are seeing you and they don’t react in a negative way. There’s not much else of you to hide.”

Off-Beat is hosting its largest event to date on April 23, when TELUS Spark will allow Pressey to use the Body Worlds exhibit for an Off-Beat event. Six to 10 models will pose throughout the room alongside the exhibit’s cadavers. Folk band Rosalind will provide musical accompaniment, while four art teachers will roam through the exhibit helping artists who need extra pointers or assistance.

Pressey believes nude figure drawing is a valuable art form.

“We tend to fall into the pattern of thinking that the nude form is sexual. It’s such a welcoming relief to get beyond that, and once you fall into the atmosphere and you’re looking at the form and appreciating it for itself, it becomes so simple,” she says. “It’s pure in its form and lights and shadow. The elbow is like a cluster of grapes. You’re just looking for the light.”

Tickets for the Off-Beat session at Body Worlds are on sale now for $50.

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