Culture desk

At Dr Sketchy's, Drawing Sessions Favour Burlesque Dancers over Fruit Bowls

The MC, Vixyn von Trix approaches the microphone, and against a wash of chatter and big-band swing, welcomes all.

It’s 5pm in the Liquor Rooms on a Sunday, and Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School is in session.

The models for the night are Cat Moiselle and Satina Spitfire, who emerge from the wings of a small stage in shimmering costumes to strike their first one-minute poses.

It’s the longest striptease ever, says Vixyn von Trix. As the night goes on, the clothes come off.

All the performers, models and organisers use their burlesque stage names. The models bend and extend before a group of roughly 35 sketchers.

The costumes alone are works of art. Cat Moiselle wears a white gown with a full tulle skirt, feathers, furs, lace beads and a headdress.

Unlike the reverential silence of conventional classes, cheering and whooping are rewarded with a wink and a shimmy.

Anti-Art School

La Petite Mort (left) and Azaria Starfire. Photo by Kerri Katastrophe.

Dr Sketchy’s Dublin started off with a really small room, said Scarlett Nymph, the branch head. As it grew, they began to add backdrops and themes.

“It kind of got a bit out of hand. People weren’t there for the themes. They were just there to draw, and for the atmosphere,” she said.

Since going on hiatus last year, the classes have returned with a simpler model: no themes and smaller sets.

The original Dr Sketchy’s was founded in 2005 in a Brooklyn dive bar by artist Molly Crabapple, an art school drop-out, frustrated by the academicism of conventional life drawing.

“It’s not a place where we’re going to teach you, or coach you. It’s not a studio. We’re taking it out of the classroom,” says Scarlett. It’s not anti-art, it’s just anti-art-school.

The class consists of several one-, two-, ten- and twenty-minute poses, two short breaks, and a burlesque performance by Cat Moiselle.

The opening bars of “Blue Moon” play as Cat emerges, wearing a floor-length blue gown, a boa and a glittering moon head piece. Gloves removed delicately with teeth spill feathers onto the floor. The dress is next.

Pushing Boundaries

Scarlett says that they have been lucky in their audience. “The people who come are like-minded, so we’ve never really had any problems,” she says.

“The performers are not there to arouse, it’s all about intent. They’re there to celebrate the female body, and costuming, music and tease. It’s performance art.”

Kerri Katastrophe is the official photographer for the sessions, as well as a performer and model.

“We can be low-brow, and we can be raunchy, and that’s kind of the funny stuff, but we’ve also done an all-kids event in a shopping centre. It was the polar opposite,” she says.

Vixyn comes from a stage-school background, but says she felt there was no place for her in that world. Her legs weren’t long enough for ballet and she wasn’t tall enough, either.

Burlesque was less restrictive. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt as comfortable as I do now in my own skin,” she said. “When the audience gets involved and cheers for you, you feel, ‘I am happy with myself.’ ”

There’s the stripping, of course, but it’s more than that, she says. “You have to look at the costumes, the music, the hours we put in to make the beginning, middle and end of a story.”

Freestyle

Those who come to draw aren’t all great artists but that’s not really what it’s about.

“I just want people to get into it, to enjoy it, not take it too seriously, and to not expect to come out with amazing works of art,” says Scarlett.

La Petite Mort (in blue). Photo by Kerri Katastrophe.

“My most favourite part is seeing the artwork. I love when people post their work on Instagram afterwards, and it doesn’t matter if it’s really crappy, I just love it.”

Kerri Katastrophe agrees. “You get people who can’t draw a stick man, and they still have a fantastic time; they shine in the caption competitions,” she says.

The class is punctuated by challenges and competitions: opposite-hand drawing, continuous line drawing, speech bubbles, and the addition of imagined woodland creatures.

“I definitely feel that people’s perceptions have been changed, of performance, of art, of sketching. Even punters have come up and said, ‘I was not expecting that,’” she laughs.

For some of those who come, it’s just a fun alternative.

“I don’t go to life-drawing classes anymore, because I find them mundane,” said Fee Rooney, who is sat after the session with a group of friends, comparing outcomes.

Emma Finn said she had come from Cork. “I found the one-minute poses quite difficult, but it’s a really fun alternative way of getting your art fix.”

At one point, Scarlett says, her grand ambition was to hold a session in the Irish Museum of Modern Art. “We’ve had three now,” she says.

The plan is to stick with the Liquor Rooms for the time-being, though. “We can grow in this venue, we have the three rooms,” says Scarlett.

The biggest problem is that it’s hard to predict the turnout, which rises and falls in waves. Even if on a slow week, though, the drawing goes ahead.

“We would do it no matter how many people were here,” she says.

Zuzia Whelan portrait
Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at zwhelan@dublininquirer.com.

 

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