The use of nude models is one of the things about being an artist that is most misunderstood. The idea of wild bacchanals with young women and/or young men, bare breasted, bare chested, bare everything, bouncing about the studio and in and out of bed makes a, depending on how you view such things, most pleasing and titillating or shocking and disgusting picture. The truth is usually much more mundane.
Most artists do not make art depicting nudes and therefore have no call for nude models. For those that do, it becomes an almost ordinary experience, most of the time devoid of sexual overtones. Never the less, I find it a pleasant and intense way to spend an afternoon.
The first time I was really aware of nude models I was a child of maybe seven or eight. I was with my parents, visiting the home of a friend of theirs, a painter named Ted Gillian. He had, what I would now guess was some sort of sketch group going on in his studio. I saw the model, in a robe, come down the hall and go into a room. My father went in to take a look, but I wasn’t allowed to. A little later he came out, smiled and shrugged.
The first time I saw a model, actually modeling nude, was in my first life drawing class at Los Angeles City Collage in 1961. I went into the class full of enthusiasm, eager to see some beautiful naked babe. That eagerness was quickly extinguished, the model was a male. At the time I did not realize what an exceptionally good a model he was. He posed as still as a rock and had a well defined, muscular build. When we finally got female models they were a disappointment to me, most of them were fat or occasionally skinny, and all over 50 which at the time seemed ancient to me, a callow youth of 17.
Male models wore a “G” string or jock strap while female models wore nothing. A G string is dumb but it is nowhere as obtrusive as a jock strap. I have seen too many skillfully done charcoal drawings of men in jock straps, they look ridiculous.
One day in my first year drawing class at Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County, one of the students asked if we could have the model pose without the G string. There was a murmur of agreement in the room. Our teacher, Joseph Mugnani, told us that a few years earlier a model was preparing to model when his G string broke. Joe asked the model if he minded posing without it, the model said, “No, not at all.” Joe then asked if anyone in the class would object and no one did, so the model posed nude. The next day when Joe came to school he was told that there had been three complaints lodged with the dean, all from male students. We never had a fully nude male model in my years at Otis, 1962-66. To put this in perspective, the Los Angeles Times airbrushed out the nipples of male athletes in photographs until the mid 1960?s.
I wonder, what does the “G” in G string stand for? Genital? Genteel? fig leaf? Gypsy Rose Lee? If you know, please let me know.
A typical day at school would include at least three but usually six hours of drawing, painting or sculpting, often of the nude. It tended to break down ones shock, even surprise, in seeing people without their clothing. Still, during the model’s rest break, the models put on a robe or kimono, if the cover happened to slip open, exposing a breast or showing some pubic hair, everyone, without thinking, would look, as if it were something new to be seen.
While I was a student at Otis, I was an entertainer at the Renaissance Faire. One day at the faire, a woman came up to me with a tray of fruit. Her sun burned breasts were well displayed, practically tumbling out of her bodice onto the fruit. She came on to me with more than the usual Faire shtick. I was put off and backing away (was 18) when she stopped and said, “Don’t you recognize me?”
Then I did, she had been modeling in my drawing class for the previous week. I had not recognized her with her clothing on.
I saw a lot of “underground”, or “experimental” films in my student years. I remember one particular film that consisted of a very pretty young woman dancing to music. The film must have been half over before it struck me that the dancer was nude. Not that there was any ambiguity, the camera was immobile, the lighting was bright, the dancer was shown from head to toe. I was just so used to seeing nude models every day that it took me a while to realize I had never seen a full frontal, side, and back nude in a movie before. I expect some viewers were scandalized, some masturbating, some bored, I enjoyed seeing a pretty young woman dance and bounce to the music. I wished we had models as pretty as she was in class.”
I modeled for a drawing class a schoolmate of mine, Carlos Almarez, was teaching. I learned a lot. I think all artists should model, they would learn the difficulty and pain of modeling, maybe learning to have more empathy with the model, not asking for needlessly difficult poses.
I started to use live models several years after I graduated from art school but I was rather rusty. I was dissatisfied with my work so, in order to get my chops back, I took a class at UCLA in anatomy for the artist,. My facility returned and I was again able to readily draw a good likeness of what was in front of me.
One day I was drawing a model, at the break she stretched and in the process took one pose after another I liked better than the one I was drawing. I realized I liked watching her in motion better than in a static pose, as required when drawing from life. That is when I began photographing my models. Using photographs I am able to capture their physical personality as expressed in their movement as well as their face and figure.
A few years ago I asked an acquaintance to model. She said, “Yes.” She said she was taking an acting class and was trying to enlarge her horizons and would like to try modeling. After the first session was over she told me that she had been afraid that as soon as she took off her clothing I would look at her and say “Never mind, put your clothing back on.” She was slender and nicely shaped, a pleasure to look at and draw. She was a very good model and we did three different sessions. I ended up doing three paintings and getting several fine photographs from her modeling, see for yourself.
It is sad that so many women have such poor self images, fortunately she was able to overcome her fears.
I do not talk about people who model for me by name without their written consent, which she had not given me, so I was surprised at a party a few weeks later to have three different men came up to me and say, “R____, said she modeled for you and had a great time.”