Daily Breeze, Dec. 2004

ART BUFF

Our adventurer barely succeeds as a nude model

 

BY COREY LEVITAN

      You know the nightmare where you're late for class and everyone turns around to look at you -- and you're buck naked?!

      Pretty much exactly that happened to me recently -- only I wasn't late. And I wasn't dreaming. I was modeling nude for Michael Vanoverbeck's Life Drawing Marathon workshop at El Camino College near Torrance.

      Readers have told me it takes a certain part of my anatomy to go through with these adventures. Never has this been more literally true.

      This unique assignment begins at 9:30 a.m. in front of Vanoverbeck's classroom, where his girlfriend, Krissy, informs me that I have arrived unprepared.

      Exactly what does one bring to a nude modeling gig? And where does one keep it with no pockets?

      As in everyday life, there are very real and unfunny answers to my wisecracks. First, there's the matter of a blanket to sit and kneel on while posing. Most of the time, there is no known answer to "What disgusting things have been on this floor recently?" In a nude art class, there is.

      Krissy has no blankets, but presents a wedge of foam tattered and dirty enough to have been flung from a burning airplane. The models also need something to wrap around their nude selves between sessions. I'm handed a sarong with flowers.

      "It's not too femme," Krissy says, snickering.

      The nude human form as art goes back to early Greek and Roman sculpture. It took a bit of a breather during the Dark Ages, when party-pooping authorities threatened artists with death for doing the devil's painting.

      But the artists of the Renaissance picked the ball back up and painted the beautiful images that we cherish today in art museums (yet can't display on prime-time TV or on the streets of certain U.S. municipalities, since things are darkening back up a bit).

      Today is not your standard nude model's workday. It's a solid 8 hours, with a one-hour lunch and 5-minute breaks every half hour.

      "It is a marathon," Krissy says.

      The gesture room comes first. Every 5 minutes for the first hour, I'm to affect a different pose on a pedestal at the center of the room. The pace then slows to one every 10 minutes. Finally, from 12 p.m.-1 p.m., it's one pose every 20 minutes. Krissy hands me a timer, so I can know when each pose is completed.

      "You can do any positions you want," she says. I keep trying to think of any I'd actually want to assume naked, but all involve Pamela Anderson.

      "Do you do any sports?" Krissy breaks the silence.

      I've been playing poker since several adventure columns ago. Yet my mime of pushing chips into the pot does not impress. Krissy recommends twisting my body to the right and left. She also points out a rope dangling from the ceiling.

      "Artists like twisting because it shows light and shadow," she says.

      I retreat to the dressing room (ironic, huh?) and wait for the class to fill. After going to the bathroom, I go to zip my fly when it hits me…

      Why?

      El Camino offered the Life Drawing Marathon for many years before its founding professor retired. Vanoverbeck, a 28-year-old woodworking teacher from Torrance, revived it in 2002. But the original student mailing list was lost. So Vanoverbeck accepted my offer for the extra, um, exposure, it promised. (My first choice of venue, the L.A. Braille Institute, does not offer nude-modeling courses.)

      Most of the artists who enroll in Vanoverbeck's workshop are compiling portfolios.

      "If you want a job with, say, Disney, you're going to have to show them a sketch book of life-art drawings," Vanoverbeck told me earlier. (Of all the strange factoids about my life, the idea of Mickey Mouse's caretakers critically eyeballing my birthday suit ranks right up there.)

      It's show (everything) time. A dozen students take their places at easels around the stage, prepared to capture my every shortcoming. My sweat storm begins.

      There's no logic to feeling ashamed of being naked. All little kids (and Bill Clinton) feel natural au natural -- that is, until their parents (or Congress) teach them to feel embarrassed.

      We disrobe in front of strangers at the gym. We think nothing of doing it for doctors. And, according to medical experts, some of us are even born without clothes.

      Yet fear still prevents the smooth release of the grip on my floral sarong. And it's not all about how cold the room is. There are serious questions...

      Would I ever get another modeling gig that wasn't nude? And, more importantly, could I ever become president with nude sketches and photos of me out there?

      Then I realize, I'm neither tall nor a Republican, so both a modeling career and the presidency are out of the question during my lifetime. I drop the sarong and march to the pedestal.

      My first pose is standing with one arm in front, the other in back, my serious face pointed straight ahead. Like Ben Stiller in "Zoolander," I am already scraping the bottom of my modeling repertoire after one pose.

      Remaining still is a bigger problem than I imagined. I am no more able to do it now than in Mrs. Edelman's eighth-grade science class. My legs need desperately to fidget for no reason. When I stop them from doing so, I discover, my mind fidgets for no reason.

      And there is plenty for it to fidget over. When you're a male posing nude for the first time, there are two scenarios you fear most. One was addressed by "Seinfeld's" shrinkage episode, the other is quite the opposite problem. I was terrified to check for either extreme, but I did notice one artist repeatedly holding a ruler at arm's length toward me. (Perhaps I should have called Mark Wahlberg's "Boogie Nights" prosthetic people prior to this assignment.)

      Sorry, I'll stop. I promised my editor my privates would not be a huge part of this article. (Of course, that fact goes without saying.) But before I stop, I will mention that one artist secretly told Vanoverbeck I was "cute."

      "He liked you a lot," Vanoverbeck says later. (I should have guessed.)

      During one break, I check out the drawings. While a few capture the way I look, artist Jana Shaver's captures the way I want to look -- with muscles as inaccurately big as my nose is inaccurately small. (Later, she lets me have the sketch for free. Boy, will my parents be surprised by this year's holiday gift.)

 

      I twist to the left for my next pose, then to the right. I kneel on my dirty foam, going through my memory of John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" moves for needed inspiration. Grabbing the rope is a dreadful mistake, though. Within 3 minutes, my numbing raised right arm feels like a glass of club soda tastes. In addition, an itch on my nose has become the most important problem I've ever had to deal with. When I reach to scratch, one of the artists emits a disparaging tongue click.

      "Holding the pose is really important for the painters," Vanoverbeck warned me. "That's one of the things they get really picky about."

      The most challenging part about nude modeling, it turns out, is the modeling. I will never make fun of a Playboy centerfold for complaining again.

      I try focusing on the music. Models get to choose their own tunes from Krissy's collection.

      My first CD is "Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits." And, I can honestly say, the line "in the naked light I saw" will never ring quite the same.

      Daily Breeze photographer Bruce Hazelton arrives and begins snapping away, adding to the awkwardness. I envision the R-rated outtakes as screen-savers on my co-workers' computers.

      Lunch mercifully arrives. I find the nude model from the other room, Jane Doe, and weasel my way into dining with her. Unfortunately, this is far less intimate than the grapes-by-a-pool scenario I looked forward to. It's only oranges in a hallway, fully clothed.

      Jane, an extremely young and fit 40, tells me there's a circuit of nude models, most of whom know each other. They work a mixture of colleges and private studios, which pay slightly more than the standard $20 an hour.

      But the work is far from steady. On the side, Jane is an exotic dancer. (Easy, guys. If you're wondering about any chemistry between us, you weren't paying attention when she told me her name was Jane Doe.)

      My eyelids are magnets, my hands whale fins out of water. I'm trying rather unimpressively to weather my post-lunch stupor in the long-pose room, where subjects sit for hour-long poses as artists brandish paintbrushes instead of pencils. At least in the gesture room, it was parts of my body falling asleep, not the entire thing.

      The only thread separating me from unconsciousness is a curiously welcome bolt of piercing pain. It seems I curled my toes under my feet at the start of the pose, because it seemed comfortable. Now they're stuck in that position.

      Vanoverbeck shows up with a cup of hot tea. Since I'm mid-pose, I can't sip it for fear of a tongue-clicking reprisal. (Actually, when you're nude, not drinking hot tea is a good idea.)

      By 3:30, I feel like I've driven from Torrance to Atlanta. In a straight line. In a strait jacket. This seemed a lot easier for Kate Winslet in "Titanic." A half hour later, I decide to reveal myself instead of keeling over.

      "Guys, I'm not really a nude model," I say.

      This is a difficult argument to make when one is both nude and modeling. Yet it explains a lot to artist Karen Scott.

      "You had three separate poses where you were sitting on the floor with one leg out and one tucked under," she says of my work in the gesture room.

      "I was thinking, 'He's either doing something complex with really subtle differences -- or he's really, really new.'"

      The other artists laugh -- until realizing the implications of my admission. One woman crystallizes their thoughts.

      "You know, this doesn't mean you're not giving us the other hour we were promised," she says.

 

to see more nude sketches of Corey, click here

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