Adventures as an artists' model.
I don't remember exactly how it started, but what memory I do have involves some artist friend or a friend of another artist lamenting the preponderance of female artists' models, with the few men around being just a couple of sameish older, paunchy guys. Someone needed new models for a class they were running. I probably just said "I'll do that, sure!" Especially when I found out it pays.
It's been said that apart from the usual things like casual alcoholism, mateship, blokeyness, sports addiction and an indefinable brand of egalitarianism that a stand-out feature of the Australian psyche is a general willingness to nude up in a crowd. Maybe other cultures do it too, but it's true, we are prone to spontaneous group displays (or displays to a group) of our finer selves, in a jovial and celebratory spirit. Maybe it's our weather. Regardless of whether this is in fact an Aussie thing, it exists here with its usual counterpart, prudery. As for me, I have always been pretty comfortable with my naked self, and that would be a blessing of my upbringing.
I'm guessing one of the big (snigger) reasons that more men weren't - or aren't - into doing the artist's modelling thing is simple penile insecurity. It was especially hard to understand in my circle of mainly 'self-employed' (jobless) arty/academic types living in a modern caffeine-fuelled New Age anything-goes ghetto rife with promiscuous partner-swapping and lots of fun times - but not much cash. OK, artists' modelling is not a beauty contest; you're there as a representative of the infinitely interesting and varied human species to be drawn and learned from. But of course even those most comfortable with their post-Eden originality will ponder what others may think of their visage. I won't get into discussing the issues women have to navigate in this society about their body image, but despite all ameliorating talk to the contrary these last decades, the basic question most men will be asking is "do they think my penis is too small?" I say most, because I suspect the giants that walk amongst us may not ask that question so much. Or at all.
As you may infer, I am not one of those giants. But you're wondering now, aren't you? Maybe you aren't - certainly enough people have already seen me in the flesh. Anyway, I shall keep you wondering for now.
Or not: Many episodes of my more youthful years involved numerous-enough sexual liaisons driven at least in part by a need to prove myself - to be liked and considered someone desirable to, er, know, at least. So I'd had enough experience to realise that my penis was not in fact a dissapointing one in general usage. At some point, as most or all males almost certainly do but rarely admit to, I did some measuring and was pleased to discover my length roughly matched my academic achievements at school: Above average, but not by anywhere near as much as I might have suspected or hoped for. Oh well, that will do. So now you know. My point is, that all of this plus my natural overconfidence added to my well-adjusted (in this sense) upbringing meant that I simply wasn't troubled about it. Really, you can't go all the way through puberty spending 2 hours most days at swimming training in all sorts of temperatures wearing just 2 grams of lycra, surrounded by Adonis incarnate in every lane next to you and still have a complex. Although in the end, it really did put me off swimming.
Apart from having gone through that journey of fear, I also at that time was pleased enough with my body, which you might have described then as 'wiry' or 'ropy' or even 'scrawny', so I was quite looking forward to the experience. Plus, I had great long hair almost to my arse that I was really into. I was born in the Chinese Year Of The Rooster, so am given to cocky (snigger again) seeming strutting and preening. Even now, looking the way I do today. Can't help it, sorry.
Prior to my first gig, I found out that it would involve a couple of hours of my day, for which I would be paid - well I forget the amount, but I remember it was about four times the hourly rate for, say, working behind a bar - and I would be well looked after. There would be 3 or 4 five-minute poses for the class to warm up (there would be a heater for me too) and then some longer poses, and I would get breaks in between to stretch and so forth. And cake after.
Well, bugger me, what an eye-opener. Firstly, males are generally expected to do 'harder' poses than the ladies, to take advantage of musculature and so forth. And I wasn't quite prepared for how hard it can be to hold perfectly still for a length of time. I had no problem with fidgetiness, but after 5 minutes or so you start to become aware of a little extra tension here, a bit of muscle fatigue there......and soon it becomes a pain you must mentally manage. It was masochistic. It sent me on a wild internal journey, an entirely new form of meditation in which I was more in touch with my body than ever before, yet would occasionally completely lose myself - lose my body - only to return snappingly back to the utter discipline of ensuring that even my breath didn't move my pose around, and directing chi to the aches and pains growing about the place. I frigging loved it.
Very glad to have had such a good all-round martial arts background then, I was. The gig went well, and word got around that I was available, and I started getting more work. Being me, I got right into the performance of it, and chose or accepted poses that would push my endurance, strength and flexibility further and further. I left each session feeling like I'd had a really good workout. Do a good job, get more work. And so it went for a few months.
This isn't me. Obviously.
But I can tell exactly where he's going to start hurting.
Once, a friend who had just told me that they could never take their clothes off in front of a room full of people asked me whether I wasn't concerned about people looking at me inappropriately. I had in fact noticed once or twice that an individual would have a particular 'look' in their eyes (I may be male, but I'm not entirely blind to these things), and often a glance at the artwork they'd produce would tend to confirm some speculations I'd had about the more particular nature of their musings. But as I explained to this friend, I felt that when you're the only one in the room with your clothes off, you actually tend to have a great monopoly on a type of power in the room. To some extent, you are completely in charge. Maybe that's what all this pole dancing/burlesque craze is about too. It is so completely easy to talk to a stranger you've just been standing naked in front of for an hour, who's been concentrating, just like everyone else in the room, on observing and recording you minutely.
But the real fun was yet to begin.
I'd been doing quite a few classes for one particular artist/teacher, and he'd produced some great big charcoals from it he was planning to use in his next exhibition. I first came to his attention from a friend of mine, Jude (and Jude, if you're reading, hi, and if these disclosures are in any way a problem for folks you might know now, we'll just say it was another Jude, yes? Great. Saves dicking around with name changes, and I know you won't have an issue really) who had modelled for him before. It was known to him that we knew each other, obviously, and he asked if we'd do some sessions together at a weekend retreat with a few of his regular students and artist buddies.
This is not me either. Or Jude.
Looks like the studio floor could use a clean, eh?
Dirty feet and floor splinters is a hazard of the job.
Jude and I in fact shared a house at this time, and that circle of people which I mentioned earlier. We had been lovers, but were not currently, and I think I had a girlfriend living there too. It was a large house. I have some fuzzy memories of that time. Anyway, Jude and I were firm besties-type friends, and headed off at the appointed hour for the rural retreat where the artists would be assembled. We took the wrong road out of town and arrived a few hours late and missed the evening session. Oh well, they'd saved us some dinner.
It turned out to be some of the best fun I'd had in years. They all just assumed Jude and I were an item, as they'd allocated us the double bedroom of the big old boardinghouse thing we were all using, and we did nothing to disabuse them of the notion, for it made us feel very safe and protected. The stakes felt higher somehow, being together and there for a whole weekend. It was cold too, I think probably Autumn, so all of us had this fireside kitchen-cosy cameraderie going, except that two of us were never actually dressed. Jude had some sort of robe thing, and I was very fond of my kikoi - basically a thicker African version of a sarong. Outside was a little garden area and then all was woods, so we could go for pleasant walks in the pine needles before going back inside and adopting the next in our series of romantic poses together.
Nope. Not us either. And this does not look comfortable.
It was a magnificent experience to share the special internal life of artist's modelling with a friend. Head-to-head, holding the poses, supporting each other and communicating through the minutest of small-muscle movement where our bodies met. And psychically. Jude fell asleep at one point. I roused her ever so slowly so no-one would know. There was never any crossing the line into sexualisation, the feeling was more soulful and deeply human. As I said, we'd been lovers, but this was altogether more intimate; mainly I think because of the stillness. Our friendship grew another level. And some really great works of art came out of that weekend.
A bit of craze for life-drawing was going on in our town (Fremantle/Perth) now and another of my male friends, and art student and musician, was getting into the modelling as well. We would talk each other up to different groups and teachers and spread work around. Then the artist that hosted my weekend with Jude asked me if I might know a male I would do a session or two with. I thought about my friend doing the modelling, but he and I had a slightly uncomfortable unresolved relationship thing in the past involving a woman, and besides I thought he might be having a bit of a bi/curious thing going on in my direction, and I really didn't want to go down that road.
So I asked another guy I knew, Kai. We'd been nude together before in a short student film a mutual friend had made, so I knew that aspect would not be an issue. (Hi Kai, if you're reading, see disclaimer option as for Jude, above, just in case). Talk about Adonis. Just make a cast of this guy. A little taller than me, with that classical statue musculature covered with just the tiniest amount of softness, flawless golden olive skin, dark ringletty hair and the sort of man/boy face that helps men understand what women can find attractive in a male. Sorry, don't have a pic of him either. It's a wonder more people didn't hate him because he was also academically gifted, spoke a few languages, could play a few instruments really well, and sing, and he came from a reasonably happy, wealthy family. Really good man too. In Australia, following this sort of write-up, we usually just say "Bastard."
Kai was into it, in an adventuorous spirit, and took to it like a duck to water. This was a totally different experience to modelling with Jude. For starters, Kai and I weren't really close, more just members of related circles, but we'd known each other for a couple of years. And the poses we were asked to get into were not romantic in the least; this was combat. At first, we approached it with a jovial sort of armwrestling vibe, pushing each other a bit, but soon it became apparent that we wouldn't last long that way. So we entered a really interesting zone of perversity, where we were portraying a martial (no, not marital, martial) wrestling scene of struggle against each other, whilst inwardly doing everything to support and look after each other, and survive intact. It was fabulous too, and Kai and I got to know each other more deeply through the meditation of silence, stillness, and shared pain. Again, I got to see some truly wonderful art created.
In a sense, that was my mistake. Hands up who you'd rather draw now, since you've been drawing me every few weeks for months? Same skinny long hair guy, or Adonis incarnate? Over to Kai then. But it wasn't really that which moved me on from such regular modelling work. It was just time. Like all relationships founded on mutual convenience and personal gratification, it has run its course. I'd been through a little journey of discovery, and learned to inhabit my body in a more conscious way. I had exorcised some of the mind-body relationships that many years of martial arts and various sports had fostered, and experienced a physical form of zen practice.
Do I miss it? No. I will admit to still sometimes missing the intoxication with my own physicality that I experienced at times then, but even despite the way my illness has variously shrunken, swollen, bent, twisted and partly paralyzed my body in different ways and places, I think that just with time and ageing we go on a journey through the changes in our bodies.
If you get the opportunity, don't pass it up. You cannot but learn and grow by standing there, fully you, as muse for others' creativity and yearning for original expression of our wondrous human form. And maybe ask yourself, when was the last time you were awake, and perfectly, perfectly still, for forty minutes?
So go on. Find a group that needs someone, and nude up. There is nothing like it.