Naked neighbours

When I first came to Dawson City, in 1998, I didn’t think I would become a model. Not that I’m a model you’d find in the haute couture cities of the world – with the catwalk, the makeup and hair, and the fancy clothes. Instead, I found myself in a profession that takes away all of that – including the clothes.

I’m speaking of life drawing, where artists hide behind large easels, faces smudged with charcoal, fingers black as they flow across the paper, all the while looking at a naked model on a platform in the centre of the room.

The first time I stepped onto that platform, I was nervous. I knew all of the artists. What would they think of me standing in front of them?

“Well,” I thought as the robe came off, “here I am,” and I struck the first pose.

Within minutes I realized that I was no longer Gabriela the friend and neighbour. They were looking from their paper to me and back, but they weren’t really looking at me at all – they were looking through me. I had become a series of lines and angles.

After fifteen years of modelling, I finally decided to ask a couple of artist friends how they handle drawing the naked body of someone they know. Ange Bonnici organizes weekly life drawing sessions at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.

“You’re in a different mindset and head space when drawing a nude model,” she says. “I’m not thinking about looking at the person naked – that would just get in the way. My focus is on the proportions.”

The model becomes an object, Bonnici says. “It’s not a conscious decision.”

Bonnici’s explanation reminds me of a time when I had just finished a session and went into the back room to get dressed. One of the male artists came through the door, saw me, blushed and stammered his apologies as he backed out of the room. He had just looked at me naked for three hours, and yet was embarrassed to see me getting dressed. The object had become a real person again.

Emma Tius, an artist and model herself, agrees with Bonnici.

“I look beyond the individual and see form, light and shadow,” she says. “I’m not looking at the person.”

“Ah,” I thought to myself, “That’s why a teacher during a recent session looked at my pose and instructed the students to draw ‘only a part of it’ rather than the whole thing.”

I’ve been asked why I would want to stand in front of a bunch of people with no clothes on. Other than facilitating art, I’ve also come to believe it’s quite liberating. Tius agrees.

“As people, especially women, we have a certain body image of what’s normal and attractive,” she says. “As a nude model, you have to face your insecurities and discomforts and free yourself from limiting beliefs and ideas. You get over yourself by not being so concerned what other people think, or what you think about yourself.”

And the best part of modelling? The artists don’t want perfection – it just doesn’t work as well, they say. So bring on the different body shapes, curves, wrinkles and angles and take that, haute couture modelling. Life drawing is where it’s at.

Life Drawing will take place at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, located on 2nd Avenue corner Princess Street, Monday, October 21 and 28 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Future sessions TBA. For more information, contact Ange Bonnici at 993-5005.

Getting Naked

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