Figure action

Models strike unconventional poses at the city's adult-oriented art salons.

NUDE FOR THOUGHT Artists get easy access to frisky sitters at Adult Drawing.

NUDE FOR THOUGHT Artists get easy access to frisky sitters at Adult Drawing. Photograph: Jeff Gurwin

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a slender brunet draped her bare limbs over the stage at the East Village’s Teatroiati Theatre as two dozen artists feverishly sketched her naked form. After several minutes, a woman wearing only a gauzy hoopskirt and a rather phallic plastic nose entered the scene and cackled loudly, “I am the puppet master!” For the next several hours, the over-the-top tyrant, portrayed by performance artist Faux Maux, offered emphatic praise (“Beautiful!”) and disapproval (“Bad puppet!”) to a rotating cast of characters—including an elderly man in a yellow-cellophane cape and a young woman bound with rope.

This is just a typical night at Michael Alan’s weekly Drawathon, a peculiar amalgam of art school and experimental theater that offers aspiring Rembrandts an astounding nine hours of bizarre improvised tableaux for a mere $20. One recent salon, inspired by George Lucas’s sci-fi drama THX 1138, saw Maux’s long locks shorn into a crew cut. Another, entitled “The Birth of Mummies’ Baby,” featured an unorthodox Nativity scene with four horsemen and a disfigured Messiah. Future editions include “Drug Rehab”—expect plenty of drooling and twitching—and a kids-themed session involving perverse takes on Duck, Duck, Goose and hopscotch.

“It might freak people out at first, but it’s good to get out of your comfort zone,” says Alan, who created Drawathon after becoming frustrated with his experiences as a graduate student at Pratt. “You have one model for three hours and you’re spending $1,000 a credit!” he says. “A lot of times the teacher will leave and you’re just drawing this person [on your own].” The class was born at Williamsburg’s Fix Café in 2005, but migrated to its current location on East 4th Street’s Theater Row two years ago. (The boisterous models must keep their voices down from 8pm to 10pm out of respect for productions at Teatro Circulo downstairs and La MaMa ETC next door.)

Alan’s fleshfest may be the lengthiest of its kind, but he’s hardly the only outré salon in town. Since 2005, burlesquer Molly Crabapple has been offering her charcoal-and-costume affair, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, at Williamsburg bar the Lucky Cat. Rob Hugh Rosen and Harvey Redding’s Queer Men’s Erotic Art Workshop has proven so successful that last year the men published a tie-in art book, Little Dirty Drawings.

The newest addition to the genre is 14-month-old Adult Drawing, which sees tattooed and pierced girls from Brooklyn’s alterna-porn site BurningAngel.com enacting racy nude scenarios. (The April meeting saw one model sporting a tool belt adorned with jewel-tone dildos.) “We’ve done 1950s sci-fi films with aliens, and dominatrix scenes with leather and corsets,” says founder Alex Zoppa. “And we’re working with Playgirl to schedule a male-model night.”

Sessions at Adult Drawing run from 9pm to 1am at Chelsea’s CoSM Gallery, and the lateness of the hour—coupled with the presence of a DJ and wine—encourages a partylike atmosphere: At least four artists disrobed at a recent gathering. Still, Zoppa maintains that the art is paramount: “We first held it at Studio Mezmor, and a lot of people just came to stare. Yes, there’s an edge to it, but it’s a serious art event.” The new gallery setting, he believes, has helped put the focus on the canvas. “You still have your gawkers, but even those people end up trying to draw.”

While Drawathon may not incorporate Babeland toys or Internet centerfolds, Alan believes it offers its share of lascivious thrills. “I think there’s eroticism in everything,” he says. “We have nude people touching each other, and their forms are interlocked. I do try to add a twist of creepiness, because sex alone is a one-liner.”

Some might call Alan’s version of eroticism eccentric, but he views traditional figure-drawing classes as far more perverse. “Going into a room with halogen lights, with this naked person standing in the worst possible position is awkward. I think what I’m doing is normal.”