Reclaim the Gaze with The Drawing Club


Written by Don't Panic
25 Wednesday 25th April 2018


Both Modigliani and Picasso have had major exhibitions this year. Both seminal auteurs are undeniably the new ‘old masters’ of modern portraiture, yet their treatment of their female subjects leaves a lot to be desired. Their brushstrokes fracture and manipulate the female form, to be consumed, rather than celebrated by the public. Many of the models employed were prostitutes and lacked any form of autonomy beyond their pubic hair.  

The exhibitions reflect society's insatiable fascination with the female form, their realities and their fantasies, both seemingly transcending time and medium. From Tate to Condé Nast the female form continues to be manipulated for the masses, leaving many questioning why?

Artist Isabella Bornholt was one of many who have grown tedious and frustrated with how mainstream images represent the female form, but instead of wallowing in a pile of Judith Butler, she’s broken through this gendered sense of ennui and taken back control by hosting a monthly life drawing class. We caught up with her ahead of the latest Drawing Club this Sunday 29/4. This months iteration is themed ‘Virgin vs Whore’ inspired by the Freudian Madonna/Whore theory.


What inspired you to start the Drawing Club?

I started the drawing club for a couple of reasons. I did a history of art degree and I specialised in feminist art, which is constantly drawing attention to the problematic ways in which notions of the 'female' is represented in visual culture. It seemed to me that still in my contemporary feminist climate there was a lot of frustration about how mainstream images of the female form represented women. At the same time, I was reading lots about art therapy and the cathartic qualities of mark making and I thought instead of just talking about the problematic qualities of the majority of images in visual culture in regards to gender, why not provide an opportunity to take matters into our own hands. Combat these issues by becoming the image-makers ourselves, and hopefully feeling empowered as a result. We pick a theme each session that relates to the feminist art oeuvre, from our all-pink session to our porn collage class, and try our best to ensure we have a wide range of models. To add to this I have been an avid life-drawer but there were no affordable classes on offer for a recent graduate. I also felt most life drawing classes were a bit stuffy, and I wanted to do something more fun. Our sessions are not serious, they are drink and draw with a relaxed atmosphere and fun music.


Why is life drawing still important?

That's an interesting question. In the days of the traditional art academies, women were not permitted to attend life drawing classes. So the notion of having classes directed at feminist concerns and female agency is exciting. In regards to the act of drawing from life being important, for me, art deriving from the representation of the human form will always be important. People are forever fascinating, and trying to capture a fellow person in a drawing will always be a creative challenge.


How do you select your models?

Often our life models are Drawing Club regulars who wanted to try it out. It is a really liberating experience, especially when you can be confident that you are in a warm and safe environment. I try and make sure through our models we represent a broad spectrum of female forms, but at the end of the day, the model needs to be someone who wants to do it. When someone puts themselves forward you can be sure I will take them up on it. I hope that as we continue to grow so does our range of models.


Tell us about the upcoming session:

The theme is Virgin vs. Whore. This month's session is inspired by the Freudian Madonna/Whore theory. Regularly in a patriarchal society, woman are labelled and divided into either the virginal category or the whoreish one. This is particularly present in visual culture. Whether it be in art historical masterpieces, advertisements or characters in TV shows, the habit of pigeonholing into these stereotypes is staggeringly common. Let's assess and subvert these bad habits in our next session.


What's next for Drawing Club?

We now have a residency at SET in Dalston, so our regular sessions will be monthly and our themes and backdrops are getting more extra each time. We are also embarking on our literary open mic night, FEMME NARRATIVES, where people can showcase poetry and short stories. To add to this we are doing a series film clubs in the summer, where we will showcase films and documentaries about creative females.  At the end of the day, our goal is to offer a fun creative outlet.

RSVP to this months Drawing Club at and visit their Insta.

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