Getting naked in the name of art
The clock strikes the hour as I take the three short steps onto a small, carpeted stage, my hands fussing with the tie on my white and navy spotted dressing gown. The robe slides off my shoulders and I stand naked in front of a surprisingly full room of people. It is terrifying.
To backtrack briefly: when I quit being professional in favour of playing with clay, I also resolved to do several other things (oooh, mystery!) one of which was life modelling. I thought it would be a bit of a laugh; making money while people drew my pear shaped derrière.
…If I’m being honest I also liked the narcissistic aspect of multiple people paying homage to me in their artistic pursuits. (Yes I always look at myself in reflective surfaces. Yes perhaps I enjoy it when my significant other wears reflective lenses so I can talk to myself. No I won’t feel ashamed for such objectively shameful behaviour).
It did, however, take me longer than expected to, as my stepmother would say, get my kit off. I was booked do to a session back in July but the organiser cancelled due to ill health. Then I had to cancel some sessions as they conflicted with my newly–acquired teaching commitments. In between I did some portrait modelling, which seemed to rely mainly on the ability not to doze off while listening to classic FM for three hours.
And so here I was, sans clothing, goal achieved.
I had (rather stupidly in hindsight) assumed that they would tell me what sort of positions were desired but, very kindly, that sort of thing is left up to the discretion of the model. Which would be wonderful if the model had given any thought to such things beforehand (eedjot me).
Five three-minute poses were pulled out on the fly, as I spun in a sort of lazy rotational circle, lifting my hands above my head only to remember that I had totally forgotten to put deodorant on that morning. Charmed.
Fifteen minutes later and I was feeling rather more confident.
Rather more confident than I should have as it happened. In what I thought was mere suggestion but was in fact kindly advice one of the ladies suggested I might want to lean against a stool or sit down for the first of the two 20 minute poses we were about to commence. “Nah” I flippantly responded, “I’m all good, I’ll stand”.
Partly bravado, partly kindness as I loathe drawing seated poses (and have always considered them the lazier option), this choice proved to be utterly painful. I posed back facing the group, arms bent above my head and wrapping around each other. My spine was slightly arched and my hip jutted to the left as I placed all my weight on that foot. It is a pose I will often briefly adopt during the day at moments of boredom to stretch out my upper back.
The key word of course being briefly.
Unsurprisingly, what may be a pleasant stretch for thirty seconds is a hideous chasm of pain 15 minutes later once the blood has stopped circulating to your hands and all feeling is retreating from your arms. Add to that a stonkingly hot photographic lamp (no doubt to highlight in glorious detail the sweat droplets that would soon start to trickle down my back) and you get a fiery pit of hell that I did, in a moment of heat-induced delirium, mentally compare to enhanced interrogation techniques.
And while it wasn't actually torture, a good lesson was learned nonetheless in just how quickly your arms, in staying still and upright, fall down after as two numb and useless meaty lumps.
In any case, you can be sure I sat on that stool (lazy way out or no) for round two, and for round three (two 40 minute poses) listened assiduously to each of that kind lady’s suggestions (directions).
Reclining a little awkwardly in the draped pool of my spotty dressing gown on a dreadful floral mattress, I reflected drowsily on a conversation I’d had during the break.
As I’d moseyed around the room, eyeing off the various easels and assessing their contents for my preference (I like watercolours because I can’t do them), a woman sought to reassure me that my legs were not as big as she had depicted in her charcoal rendering. I reassured her that I was not taking the results of my perusal as personal critique and, together with another man, we got chatting.
I told them how nervous I’d been under the hot glare of eyes and light; trying not to sweat, terribly conscious that despite my mental instructions I was sweating profusely and watching (in the perfectly positioned full length mirror) the sweat bead and traverse down my legs. The man kindly told me of the time he’d tried to life model but couldn’t actually take off his clothes in front of other people. They both reassured me that not only had they not noticed me sweating but that they never judged the life models. “All the judgement occurs on the floor” the woman said and the man nodded, “we all judge each other and you get to judge all of us,” he added.
It was funny because it accorded perfectly with how I’d felt every time I was on the other side of the easel. I hated it when they moved or broke pose early but I never thought negatively about their bodies; the most scrawny of men, the most Titian of women – all were wonderful fodder for the page. In the panic triggered by the disconcerting newness of the experience I had forgotten this but as I lay reclined, limbs quivering slightly in post-adrenaline come-down, I surveyed my circle of painters as they paid their (not unwelcome) homage.