Life drawing meets burlesque erotica

Gothic horror picture show

Suzanne Black turns to the dark side at Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School where burlesque erotica meets life drawing.

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m loitering outside the entrance to Edinburgh’s newest art class trying not to look too much like a pervert. Some passing tourists catch sight of the Dr Sketchy’s poster advertising ‘Drawing & Drinks & Dames & Dudes’ and I explain that it’s a life drawing class with a difference, promising sex, glamour and titillation, and that the models are all burlesque acts. Their ears prick up at the nudity but the participatory aspect is too much, and they move on in search of a less strenuous beer. Feeling seedier than ever, I brace myself for some sort of strip club experience where lonely people gawp at less than enticing naked bodies.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The hostess, Miss Sarah Slaughter-Merchant, elegant in a slinky black dress and tail coat, extends a gloved hand and ushers me into a parallel universe. Amid candles, incense and the atmospheric strains of Björk a semi-circle of tables is set up for the eclectic mix of art students, complete beginners and the just plain curious who have come to draw. All look onto something akin to a scene from a horror film.

This week’s subject is the Ministry of Burlesque’s Karney Doll, a gothic vision in a medical themed fetish outfit. Mutilated dolls and teddy bears lie strewn at her feet and a saw dripping blood hangs nonchalantly from her hand. The outfit and scene were created by the model herself, heightening the difference between the anonymity of traditional life models (think middle-aged men with saggy parts and a glazed expression) and the individuality of a performer.

The website for the New York branch of Dr Sketchy’s, where it all started, describes the experience as ‘what happens when cabaret meets art school’. Something close to live art, but far less pretentious, the blurring of the line between participation and spectating is a large part of the appeal - in fact, the remarkable resurgence in popularity of neo-burlesque club nights over the last ten years is no doubt down to the special quality of an individualistic performer putting on a one-off, idiosyncratic live show. The fact that the acts are usually glamorous and erotic doesn’t hurt, either. With the Ministry of Burlesque and Club Noir both operating in Scotland, whetting the public’s appetite for good old fashioned fun, and the initial success of Dr Sketchy’s in Edinburgh, dates have already been confirmed for a Glasgow branch and plans for an expansion into Dundee are afoot.

Despite the spectacular model, close proximity of the bar and advice on hand for beginners, the muse has failed me, and I decline to enter any of the ad hoc competitions that happen throughout the session. Sketchees are invited to line up their masterpieces for judging and chance of winning a small prize. There are some stunningly accomplished pieces, but the popular vote goes to a wacky work of imagination featuring Karney surrounded by grotesque horror imagery in a kitschy cartoon style. While it wouldn’t pass muster down at Edinburgh College of Art, in Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, it gets an A.

Counting House, Edinburgh, Sat 17 Feb, 3, 17 Mar; Tron Theatre, Glasgow 20 Feb, 6, 20 Mar,

Dr Sketchy's Anti-Art School

Where cabaret meets life drawing – the models are burlesque divas, strapping hunks of manhood and circus freaks. Win alcohol and fancy art supply prizes at this antidote to solemn, lifeless classes.

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