I’ve been taking my clothes off for cash for years. Not stripping. I’m far too un-co for that. Artist modelling. I started when I was 17 in my first year of university. I couldn’t believe I could get paid to do nothing. And do nothing in the nude. My two absolute favourite things. And be watched. My third favourite thing. So while my friends were schlepping coffees or washing dishes I was naked, sitting on a chair draped in velvet, being fed biscuits and tea by the oldies in the art group. They didn’t like me to move much. And after half a packet of biscuits I generally couldn’t.
Some classes like you to change every few minutes but this group liked a 6-hour pose. Generally sitting unnaturally wearing a beret and a scarf and pretending to read a book. Because that’s how girls read books. Nude with beret. My arse would go numb after the second hour. By the third hour I couldn’t feel my feet. So at break time I’d wander naked through the studio chatting with the artists, trying to get some circulation in my butt.
I used to enjoy looking at the pictures. I loved seeing how weird they made me look. Most of them couldn’t paint that well. It was more of a social gathering, and having a young nude girl there meant that the men turned up.
One day when I was perusing the paintings I discovered one of the old blokes had painted a boat. The studio was perched on a river and outside were lots of boats either moored at the jetty or drifting by. I inquired as to his interpretation of me and he said, ‘I like looking at you when I paint boats’. That’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me.
I also modelled at art schools, and smaller gatherings of artists. It was like naked mindfulness. I would just drift off, have a nap, wake up, get dressed, and then get paid. The bonus was I could work hung over. In fact. I did my best work still a bit drunk from the night before.
Eventually I worked pretty exclusively for about three artists who liked to work one to one. It was always above board, although some of the work I did was rather unusual. Like hanging upside down on a bike from a chain. I’m not sure what that was about, but if you’ve ever been naked upside down on a bike it’s very hard to stay on. I had to clench so hard I ended up sweating, and even the tiniest bit of moisture made it super slippery. It was while I was upside down slipping off the bike seat that I considered getting some other sort of paid work. One where I could wear pants.
One artist liked to dress up identically to me. He was a short man with long hair like mine. So he’d make me dress in stilettos and a tube skirt, with no top (him too) and then wrap us both in cling wrap from head to foot. I went to his studio for two weeks where he’d dress me up and then wrap me in plastic. It was some sort of cross-gender pupa thing he was doing but I felt more like a sandwich. He then photographed us in weird poses and then exhibited the work in leather so that to view you had to unclip it. Like undoing pants. It was really creepy. I kind of liked how kooky things were getting.
I got a lot of work because I’d do weird stuff. It wasn’t pornographic. It was more a bit perverted. My strangest job was for a guy I hadn’t met, but he was a friend of the cling-wrap guy. I arrive at dusk to a remote location where a fat bald man with a labrador greets me. I think: I am going to die. There are no other houses. He is alone. He leads me to his lounge room where I am instructed to disrobe and stand in front of a screen. He hands me an artificial limb which I am told to put the socket on my boob like I’m breastfeeding. He gives me a skull that goes upside down between my thighs like I’m birthing a skeleton. Then he projects repetitive images of Michelangelo’s David’s genitalia all over my face and body. Then he gets the camera out.
It occurred to me that it’s quite possible he wasn’t an artist at all. He was a serial killer and these are the weird shots he sticks to his pinboard after he’s murdered me. The photo shoot went for about an hour, well until he ran out of prosthetic limbs. He paid me very well. I left, and I’m pleased to say that the work was exhibited a few months later. I’ve never been more relieved to see a penis on my face.
Weirdly the thought of my being the subject of his private fetish was creepier than being part of his public one. Somehow seeing the work on the wall legitimised breastfeeding all those limbs. Years of artist modelling made me incredibly comfortable in my skin. It’s great body positive therapy.
I’m getting my weird nude fix as part of an installation at Forest Art’s Flesh and Bone Experiment on Friday 13 September… Let’s see how long it takes now for my bum to go numb. If you want directions email [email protected]