Neil Gavett is a well-known model for artists in central Missouri, and has worked with basically all of the art departments in the area (click here for an earlier piece about him). In September 2015 he’ll have been working primarily as an art model for 20 years. That’s major commitment to the craft, something Neil describes as “another day, another dangle.” Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Neil in many classes and have enjoyed his hospitality. Neil loves to facilitate shared experiences. In April of 2014 I got to visit him and share a lengthy conversation over an amazing meal (steak and shiitake mushrooms in a bourbon-based sauce) and several choice beverages (rum!). It was quintessential Neil, and I hope you can get a small sense of the depth and intensity of what it means to spend a couple hours with the man through the snippets of dialogue from that day that I share below.
Portrait of Neil Gavett: Another Day, Another Dangle. Gouache on paper, 14×11 inches, 2014.
On Cooking With Mushrooms
“Shiitakes are pretty hard to mess up.”
On Spiritual Plugs
“I remember the first time I heard that phrase about ‘many forms of electricity’: you know, something along the lines of, ‘it doesn’t matter which plug in the house you use, you’re jacking into the same thing.’ That was back when I first read Phillip K Dick and had been taking a lot of theology classes. At the time a friend of mine was reading Illusions by Richard Bach. My friend was so excited about it he drove four hours home from college and gave the book to me, saying I had to read it. It’s a book talking about the power of visualization – that the crisper the visualization is in the mind, the more you develop the ability of the mind to visualize, the more easily you’ll begin to manifest your reality. So the ability to be able to stop and count things, or to be able to discern differences in color… those are all in the higher function of the brain. The more you work with that level of awareness, the better your ability to move beyond fight or flight level engagement. So while taking those theology classes at St Bonaventure and thinking about visualization, I got fascinated with the relationships between the theology I was studying and the ritual theater of indigenous religions. It was the idea of symbolic movements and gestures that all have purpose. You can take that right into Roman Catholic ceremony or a Southern Baptist service with the theater of preaching, which both serve to raise the energy in the room. There’s also the laying on of hands or the mechanics of public prayer that focus the energy. The pastor or priest is tying the congregation together to produce the desired effect. The gestures, the facial expressions – they translate across spiritual systems and cultures. Also, there’s the use of specific types of structures. Think about the use of a cosmic axis pillar – the Axis Mundi – whether it’s the plume of smoke in a Native American ritual or a Christian cross or the World Tree for other faiths. There are certain common threads.”
On The Bare Minimum of Ritual
“When I would have friends who want me to perform the ceremony for their wedding (Neil has studied a number of Neopagan rituals and has performed the Handfasting ceremony many times – MB) the basic thing I do is simply give them a framework for what has to be there. I give them the bare minimum of what is needed in order for a ceremony to work. In all of these ritual traditions there are a certain number of things that have to be acknowledged and if you don’t want to do those things you’re not looking for a religious ceremony. You’re not looking for someone who’s at all spiritual you’re looking for a Justice of the Peace.”
“Jung gave us a vocabulary to share with others what was happening in the mind. So many terms and concepts that we use to this day came out of his work. The idea of collective unconscious, in particular, was important to me. And that there are many ways for us to get our minds tuned toward that arena… those small moments where you feel yourself in sync with something greater than yourself. In reading Jung I first grasped the notion that the thing that separated us from the rest of the animal world was the evolution of a sort of meta-consciousness where we realize what our survival costs others.”
“I miss it. Definitely the most entertaining job I’ve ever had. Tending bar is like throwing a party every night only everybody is paying for their own drinks. And part of the job is being everyone’s friend – ‘the doctor is in’ kind of thing.”
On What he Has Learned Modeling
“Just wrapping my brain around the fact that artists see the world differently. I’ve had to exercise my brain to grasp that – to begin to see the green in a sunset or to see a tree in front of me as THE tree. Yes, that’s the main thing: that artists really do see differently. Through realizing that I started to understand that I was seeing less than I could be. So I wanted to try to learn that mindfulness I saw in the artists around me, their ability to see everything for the first time.”