Founded by Tom Hodgson of Painters Eleven in 1957, this life drawing class has endured centuries and called the Gladstone Hotel home for 30 years now.
Walt Ruston’s life drawing class is a relic of the Canadian art scene all the way from the swinging sixties to modern day. Originally founded by the larger than life Tom Hodgson in 1957, the class has endured centuries and we have Walt to thank for the last 30 years of it. The Gladstone Hotel is proud to host Walt’s life drawing class every Wednesday at 8pm, a partnership going on 30 years strong.
In celebration of the classes 60th anniversary, Walt has curated a collection of his students and his own life drawings together with a memorial to the founder of the class, Tom Hodgson. Join us for a night of celebration in the Gladstone Hotel’s ballroom on September 6th from 7-11pm.
Windsor-born and farm-raised, Walter Ruston came to Toronto in ‘62 to attend OCA (Ontario College of Art), now OCAD. But it wasn’t until ‘67 that he started attending Tom Hodgson’s infamous life drawing class.
Walt quickly took to Tom, like most people who found themselves in Tom’s presence. “He was a life source, just constantly going—a real energy,” tells Walt. Tom was well known in the community and for good reason. He was a famous Canadian painter and member of the abstract expressionist group Painters Eleven; he was an accomplished rower and Olympic athlete; and for good measure, he was a well-connected ad man and teacher at the OCA. But above all, Tom was known as a free spirit. “At Tom’s you would talk about all the things you weren’t supposed to talk about…” recalls Walt, “it was always open and free”.
The drawing class moved into “the Pit,” Tom’s huge warehouse space, and so did Walt. Between ‘72 and ‘79, inside the Pit was a mix of ad men, artists, and occasional stragglers. You would often find Tom painting. Sometimes he painted in the nude, other times he was very persuasive at getting others to undress. Tom loved nudity. Then one day he decided to buy a creamery, and so the drawing class moved there as well. “I was in California at that time, but I was still renting the space from Tom because I never moved out of the warehouse. So I came back home one day and all my stuff was suddenly somewhere else. I mean that’s the way he was, he would get an urge to do something and he would do it” tells Walt.
Walt moved into the Gladstone Hotel in ‘82 and stayed there until the hotel’s renovations began in 2000. He was the official “artist in residence” for the last 8 years of his stay and enjoyed unobstructed views of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower from his roof top studio, now the most coveted room at the hotel, the Tower Suite. The drawing class, however, moved to the Art Bar. “We had drawing class one night and then poetry another night. It was a place for talking amongst artists and with whoever showed up. That was where Ryerson is now and in those days it was a pretty swinging place,” remembers Walt.
In the ‘90s Tom began to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. “He had moved out to the country by that point, and one day he was driving home and he couldn’t figure out where he was and got lost. And that’s when they figured out that it was bad and it wasn’t long after that he was institutionalized,” says Walt. Tom was the last surviving member of Painters Eleven, but in a way Tom’s spirit still lives on through Walt’s life drawing class.
Walt admits that there isn’t many people left from the ‘80s still taking the class. “It’s mostly new people now, but there is a regular crowd. All different ages… You got amateurs and professionals and you know that’s really good because you learn from each other.” Apparently, the biggest challenge is finding a seat because by a quarter to 8 the class is pretty much full. And then the magic begins. “We start off with 2 minute poses, then 3, then 5, and 10 minute poses at the end. It’s all pretty fast until the end, so that we can get loosened up. Because if you have half an hour, you’re going to tighten up looking for detail. So the idea is to get these nice loose lines and it’s really amazing how much detail you can actually get in once you start concentrating,” says Walt.
Walt’s own practise includes mural painting and he has contributed public art across most of our beautiful city. But Walt admits, “I’ve always enjoyed drawing, so this class has been a real delight for me. Most artists start with life drawing and I mean I did too, but when I went to Tom’s place it was so much fun that I just kept going.” And he never really stopped going. Because of Walt others can have a chance to feel that same rush of excitement.
To be clear, Walt doesn’t teach the class. “I give them more advice,” he says. “I do have a little pamphlet that I give them that shows them how to draw the basic shapes and how to find the centre. And that’s really all you need because the rest is up to you.” Life drawing is a very personal form of art. It requires immense concentration and complete fluidity. Walt tells us that it’s really quite meditative.
“You got to feel how to put the art out. For me it’s there, you just have to pull it out and people are sometimes afraid to do that. They have to try to get over their fears, and of course, practise helps like anything you have to practise… There’s a certain point when you’re sitting down and there is just humming. You got some cool music happening, and you can just feel the concentration. Everyone is just so into their drawings. You get a good pose, and you get something good happening, and you get more and more enthused. I mean if you’re not having fun doing it, you’re not doing it right,” concludes Walt.
Join us in celebrating Walt Ruston, Tom Hodgson, and the 60th anniversary of their life drawing class in Toronto on September 6th at the Gladstone Hotel, 7-11pm. All drawings displayed will be available for sale.