Every Tuesday evening, 25-year-old BIS art instructor Charlie Gorringe invites 15 individuals out for a drink at District 2’s Saigon Outcast – followed by two hours of nude figure drawing. Ruben Luong chats with the English expat about the draw of art and naked bodies. Photo by Vinh Dao.
So, beer and nude figure drawing! How did you come up with the idea?
There are no art classes, at least not many in Saigon, that are adult, and I think that’s important. I come to Saigon Outcast a lot because I live around the corner. It’s such a communal space. We’re always surrounded by arty people spraying the wall or something. It allowed me to think up this idea. It’s gone really well so far. There are a lot of artists in Saigon and it’s good for people to come together, even if you’ve never drawn before. I think it’s a good space to come have a beer, maybe eat food first, draw. It’s chill.
Since it’s outdoors, what’s the process and how do you deal with any sensitivity to nudity?
We put a screen across the gates. It’s a private space, so people are welcome to come in, but people are also warned they will see a naked person.
I also like for everyone to meet the model first, especially if someone has not done it before. As much as we love nude or naked people, when it’s someone standing in front of you, it’s uncomfortable. It’s important to chill a bit first. As soon as the model gets naked, I want everyone here to start out uncomfortable and draw with eyes shut, draw with the other hand, so you don’t pick up any uncomfortable vibe from looking at the model, you focus on yourself and the drawing process. Then we do three poses, starting with a warm-up pose. There are two half-an-hour sits.
Where do you get the art supplies?
All the charcoal I found from a guy on the street in Thao Dien with a cart full of huge twigs that were burned. He was covered in head-to-toe charcoal. I ran up to him and told him I wanted them and drew on the ground with them. The other supplies are just food coloring and pencils. It’s really cheap stuff: brown paper, sugar paper, things that are easy to find here. The boards, easels, they’ve all been from a dreamland I recently discovered near the art school, which is just out near the airport. It’s just a cave of dreams.
Have you taught nude figure drawing in the past?
I never taught it before. At university I studied quite a lot of flesh and the human figure. So I’ve always been into that kind of drawing and I used to do a lot of oil painting, which is fleshy and tactile in texture. I’ve been to a lot of classes before. I’d never taught it before but was always really into it.
How many models are there? Is it difficult to find them?
There’s a new model every week. My model dropped out last week and so my model, Carol, she’s Spanish, is my go-to girl. We have men and women, Vietnamese and expats. I find them via social media. At the moment, I’ve had zero problems. It’s really casual. We run through it and obviously I pay them for being here, they get some food, they get some drinks. They’re part of the class. Carol will cover herself up and also be involved with everyone.
Would you ever consider modeling?
If my model doesn’t turn up, I probably would. I definitely would. I might keep some of my clothes on, but I definitely would!
What makes figure drawing different compared to other art?
For me, looking at figure art is so interesting. As much as we know what people look like, bodies look like, when someone’s in front of you and you’ve got a pencil in your hand, you want to draw it because it’s intriguing, but it’s also uncomfortable. Once you get past that and draw what you see, that’s what’s so interesting. You’ll see the results and it’s really lovely, that it’s not just a naked person standing there.
Who are your students?
People come in droves and drabs. It’s super diverse. Some have never drawn before. We’ve had tourists. We’ve even had a date, it’s so funny. They did the date and snogged over in the corner afterwards. My mum came last week. She surprised me from England. It was the best surprise of my life. She came to the life drawing class and she had never drawn in her life and she said it was so tranquil and peaceful and it’s just a nice place to talk to people.
How do you deal with students at different levels?
People will often say to me and point to their drawing like, ‘Charlie, this is wrong.’ I have one student that’s very particular, so I just have to know everyone. You can instantly tell what they want from this, so between the levels the class is small enough I can go around and have a good three or four minute chat with them and not draw for them but guide them. If you can’t rectify it, you can next time, and so I just play with that.
What do you think makes an exceptional figure drawing?
Personality. A lot of traditional teachers will say it has to be perfect and it’s drilled into you [that] your proportion and perspective have to be right. Yes, the feet and hands need to be perfect, but because it’s such a mixed class it’s more about ‘Oh, how did you do that? Maybe I’ll try that next time.’
Obviously if something doesn’t look right I’ll say it’s wrong because that’s what I’m here to do. I’ll give them techniques to do what they’ve done better so they’re learning to build their confidence. Here it is casual, you get the right balance between telling what’s wrong and getting them to be experimental, especially with materials. I’m all about materials.
What becomes of the figure drawings from the class?
At the end, people compare each other’s drawings. It’s good to learn from each other. If you don’t want to put your work in that’s okay, too. Most take them home. But some people only do it for the lesson, so I’ll give them to the models.
I also don’t do critique. I used to have critique in the mornings for university. It literally was the worst part of my morning. So when we share our drawings I just feel proud, I guess. I walk around and it’s more a shock factor for everyone else to compare and contrast. I like the process rather than the actual final product. It’s more of a process. But I also love it when it comes all together. It’s all beautiful.
Figure drawing classes are held every Tuesday at 7pm at Saigon Outcast, 188/1 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, D2. Reserve a space in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Each session costs VND 250,000 per person.