Zhenya Gershman: Unveiling the Artist's Muse

By Charles E. Miller & Tina Gulotta Miller, Executive Producers "The Model's Artist" and "Corsi: Prince of Models" (2015)

Image: Mark Snyder next to portrait by Zhenya Gershman, Eric M. Swenson Photography

Centuries of representational art set the role of the artist's model as a romanticized or mysterious stranger whose story is fixed in paint or stone - their identity a footnote, completely lost in obscurity. Often in a subservient role to the artist, artist's models were subject matter, a lover, servant or wife, as was the case with Rubens, Bonnard, Renoir or Salvador Dalí. Over time the role of the artist's model shifted when Realism took hold, as a view into the life or plights of "the common man" as farmer, fisherman or tradesperson. Later still when photography took hold in advertisement and art - the artist's model was still generally seen as an object or commodity.

The short documentary film "The Model's Artist" sets out to change that perception. As executive producers, we trace the story of how this role has evolved from the dominating artist-model stereotype to one of equal partnership. Through the relationship of internationally renowned figurative artist, Zhenya Gershman, and her long-time collaborator and distinguished artist model, Mark Snyder, we witness them articulate the importance of partnership in their work. As Zhenya describes it: "they speak of love at first sight, but when I met Mark it was 'muse' at first site, and we've been working together ever since".

Emmy-winning director
Jake Gorst
saw this collaboration immediately as he entered Gershman's workspace, "When I stepped into Zhenya's studio, I quickly realized the cinematic potential of the space, with beautiful light streaming across the ceiling, and giant portraits of Mark at every angle. As the two of them began working, the depth of the artist-model relationship manifested itself. The intensity with which Zhenya works, applying paint onto the canvas with deliberate and confident motion, rapid fire, was very exciting to watch through the camera. Mark found his position and his intense gaze was captured before my eyes. I felt like I was shooting an action film."

Image: Zhenya Gershman next to portrait of Mark Snyder, Eric M. Swenson Photography

Recognizing the importance of the artist model is as central to "The Model's Artist" as it is in Mainspring Pictures feature length documentary now in production, "Corsi: Prince of Models", which showcases world renowned artist's model, Antonio Corsi. Corsi posed for hundreds of master painters and sculptors from the Pre-Raphaelites of Europe to Daniel Chester French who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial and even a young promising art student named Norman Rockwell.

When we first viewed Jake's production dailies, we agreed that the segment on Zhenya and Mark captured a unique story that stood on its own. We saw in Mark a passion that matched Corsi's much as he shared nearly one hundred years ago, "I've found that it doesn't matter what we models do - we're not given credit for the work we've actually done toward making the picture or statue a success. The artist gets all the credit. Of course, there's a reason for this. Ninety-five per cent of the models aren't interested in the artist's work. Some of them pose just for curiosity's sake; some of them do it for the money only, and some of them don't really make it a profession. If they did, the artists would appreciate them. I say, take interest in their work and put your heart and soul into it."

Many art scholars acknowledge that artist's models have been obscured in art history. Heather Leavell, chairwoman of the sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum in Arlington, MA, which houses an important Corsi work, shared our common frustration, "We really don't, when we study art history, learn anything about the models." So Mark lives as Corsi's contemporary, out to break the mold as fully vested artist collaborator. These films, Zhenya Gershman's exhibition, and the Arts & Culture Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented to Mark from the Los Angeles LGBT Center are set to honor the role of the artist's model and move this aspect of art history forward. It is time we and others celebrate the living muse for artists - the artist's model.

watch the preview of "Model's Artist":


THE MODEL'S ARTIST: An Art Exhibition & Short Film featuring artist Zhenya Gershman and model Mark Snyder is presented by Los Angeles LGBT Center's Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and project Awe Friday, May 15 from 7-9PM

Model's Artist will also be featured in the Highland Park Film Festival Oct 8-10

More details on the free screening and exhibition: http://www.lalgbtcenter.org/art and project AWE