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‘How long have I been sitting here naked?’: The dizzying and ugly experience of being a life model | Art

AFirst, my clothes stay put. “I can just imagine you naked if you prefer?” says illustrator and graphic designer Aley Wild. I’m first to Wild’s booth at Sydney’s independent artists showcase, The Other Art Fair, where people can pose for a take-out nude portrait, with the option to stay dressed and let Wild undress them (with his mind).

“No, I want to do the nude,” I say. “But can I do it with clothes first?”

I’m waiting to do an atmosphere test. Life modeling isn’t sexual, but a similar consent framework applies and I’m clear about two things, in particular, that I wasn’t when I was younger. The first is that a “yes from hell” can turn into a “no from hell” in no time and requires no explanation (even to yourself). The second: trust your instincts.

Wild passes brilliantly, but the privacy screens have gaps and there is a two-metre opening forward to ensure his stand remains visible to visitors. The room is filled with arty hotties on the prowl: the goal of the fair is to have a sticky beak to the hilt. To do the portrait, I need to give up the assurance of privacy.

Wild nips behind the couch posing to adjust a screen. It threatens to tip over; we laugh and steady him. Next thought: what if it spills over when I’m naked? It would make a calamitous thud on polished concrete floors. Would I be my best self and scream “as you were!” to the spectators, perhaps to a round of applause? Or scream and use my hands to cover all the flesh I could, like Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give when Jack Nicholson launches into a full front? Guess what.

“How should I sit?” I ask Wild from the couch (still fully clothed). She tilts her head. “Maybe go more sideways, something contrapposto?” I can’t remember the last time someone asked me to do something with my body using a word I didn’t understand.

When it’s time to undress, I stammer. Really mundane stuff. I have no idea why I can’t STFU but later realize that undressing in silence would have felt like leaning into a striptease. Wild cats back. She’s from San Francisco (where public nudity was legal until 2012) and “wasn’t brought up with the idea that nudity was shameful.”

I wasn’t raised in San Francisco and when I walk to the couch I leave behind a sweaty foot contour. My nerves are bolstered by recalling an interview with writer Lena Dunham, who was often nude on the Girls TV series. Dunham worried people would say horrible things about him, and then they did. All that and worse. But the world did not end; nothing even fell. The bad thing happened and it wasn’t that bad.

As I sit down, Wild says “beautiful.” Not in a clumsy “you’re beautiful” way but in the way people say “lovely” when a plan has just been settled. This reassures me because I was afraid of disappointing. I would be too flabby or shapeless or I wouldn’t pose with enough flair. But what I have, what I am, and what I offer raw under these frankly pretty brutal lights will be just fine. The drawing is almost half done!

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Aley Wild drawing nudes. She “wasn’t brought up with the idea that nudity was shameful,” she says.

Wild’s portraits are drawn at speed in a bold graphic style. When a shadow suddenly appears dark and wide at the edge of the screen, she quickly turns and raises her hand. “Sorry, no, sorry, can you wait?” My appreciation for his ability to multi-task is out of proportion. She can draw me And protect me. Damn, it’s a fast-onset Stockholm syndrome. How long have I been sitting here naked?

Wild’s eyes land on my body and return again and again to his paper. I get almost giddy at how unafraid it is because that’s how I often feel when I look at my body. The specificity of how I am objectified here is so novel. She doesn’t see what I see and the eye of the beholder is kind. One last flourish and she pushes a tender and satisfied smile.

My clothes are back super fast. A nearby stall does tattoos and I almost signed up, clearly on one of those weird highs where friends warn you “don’t make any decisions for a while”.

I don’t have a platform terrifying enough to emancipate myself from the judgment of others, as Dunham did. When it comes to body positivity and radical self-love, I support the quest for others but have never quite figured out how to get there myself. Experiences like this give me a chance, because the only way to the body is through the body. And a phototropic instinct in me knows it, nudging us toward the light.

theguardian Gt

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