Robert Bunkin, Painter

Resident at Westbeth since 2014

Return to Westbeth

In 1972 I was a high school senior. Art was already my obsession. I was attending the Brooklyn Museum Art School on Sundays and the Saturday Program at Cooper Union. I was a student at Springfield Gardens High, at the edge of Queens, near the Nassau County border. That school served my community, Rochdale Village in Jamaica, as well as Rosedale and Laurelton. Like most high school seniors, I was restless and wanting more outlets for my interest in art, so when the chairman of the art department, Norman Berman, told me that I could do a weekly internship at Westbeth, this new artists’ community, I jumped at the chance. I and my closest friend, Vicky Pearlman, who also lived in my building in Rochdale, would go to Westbeth every Thursday instead of attending classes! This internship took two forms: working with a hard-edge abstractionist, laying down masking tape along pre-drawn outlines and applying preselected colors with small rollers. This process didn’t interest us. The other was posing nude for a small drawing group. Since both Vicky and I had been attending life classes with nude models at Cooper Union, this seemed perfectly fine, and we did it willingly. It was interesting to see how different artists (male and female) interpreted our bodies. We didn’t tell Mr. Berman that that was what we were doing, but it was the early seventies, and the atmosphere was very permissive.

When my wife and I moved into Westbeth forty-two years later, the artist who hosted those life drawing sessions was still living in Westbeth. I met him several times, and I was able to tell him that I had posed for him back then. He remembered, and told me that he had felt some nagging doubt that he had “exploited” us. I assured him that neither Vicky nor I ever felt that way. The artist died two years later. His widow kept all his drawings, and she invited me to look at some from that era to see if I could identify drawings for which I’d posed. So far, no luck.

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