Being Nude In Front of Strangers

Image credit: Eleanor painted by a student at Insight School of ArtImage credit: Eleanor painted by a student at Insight School of Art

Most of us are born naked, but ever since Eve decided that snakes are nice creatures and wisdom-apples are delicious, we have been covering ourselves up with fig leaves and what not. If you are the only one naked at your current location, you will often find that you at some point have made a mistake. But not Eleanor: she poses nude for Art.

‘Do you want some ice for your bum? You look like you’ve been spanked.’

‘Um, no I’m ok thanks. I’m not sure that would help.’

Let’s not talk about sex. Let’s not reference sex. Let’s be passionate and committed about finding ways to communicate which suggest that today we have not even thought about sex.

It’s actually quite easy – that’s why it tickles me when I get told my naked body looks like it’s been spanked. Spanked? Sorry who? I’m more occupied with how much it is costing to rent this studio in Islington and where one can buy these stiff paper dressing gowns which don’t tear and how nice this soap smells on my cold hands and how glad I am that I’m not on my period because the photographer is making me jump around with my legs flying and why my deodorant never seems to able to dry until it has dripped itself sweetly all the way down the side of my body. Sorry to break it to you, little man with a big camera, but I’ve just got a bit of a pink bottom. No palm has struck me this morning.

Maybe a side effect to my mastering of the I’m-only-naked-because-you-are-making-serious-art-and-and-nothing-about-me-is-provocative state, is that I am losing my ability to recognise humour. I hope not. There is always space for humour: ‘Oh, I better take these glasses off otherwise I won’t be truly naked.’ Not my best at all, but the assembled class liked it. If there’s going to be a naked quip with a life model in the room almost everyone wants it to be the model who has uttered it – apart from me, who quite likes the bad jokes and uncensored exclamations that come from the clothed assembly. They are honest, unstoppably silly and always seem to form themselves before the bearer has a chance to prevent them. And of course it’s the model’s job to relieve everyone of the egg shells that are so often laid down – no one can laugh until I do, no one can relax until I do… I will always take the power trip.

I did think it quite novel to be told once by a taxi driver, who had arrived early for a class, that he didn’t recognise me with my clothes on. Even more novel was the disbelief visible on his face as he repeated to himself what he had just said. There was a delay in the awkwardness – it appeared late as a formality. It is the moments before caution which are wonderful in their matter-of-factness.

The combination of the curiosity and compulsion ignited by an isolated naked body, and the functionality and concentration required by the artist’s task at hand, is a fascinating one. It seems strange to think that it is possible to be surprised by a man’s interest in your body when you are sitting alone and undressed in front of him – but it is. (And, yes, it is always men.) Spending hours without clothes on listening people talking mundanely about line, shape and colour makes it easy to adopt a hippyish attitude towards being naked; to forget that we’re not all stripped and having saunas in the wilderness of the Welsh borders or exchanging raw food recipes; to forget that this is urban nudity. In the city breasts are different to bellies, bums are different to backs and pubic hair is, well, different.

Each person has their own reaction to a naked body when they look at it – which is the most beautiful part or the most comforting? What do they want to stare at the most? I can float around like a piece of white paper before I remember this. That I’m more than a task. I’m a naked person, a novelty. And yes, he does mind if my top slips down because he told me he’d be tempted to paint the whole bust if he could see my breasts and he set out to paint the face. Only the face.