Wednesday, August 02, 2006

trooper is a good bird

This guy lives with Dolce and Guido, those Italian Greyhounds I'm always photographing. Thought I'd give you a break from the dogs (although I did take a few more snaps of them last week; they're hard to resist).

Weird day modeling. I did not actually work for the artist who lives with Trooper and the pups, but at an extension class out at UC Berkeley and then at an art center in Alameda. The day did not start well; I was running late, and frustrated that I would be modeling with furry limbs (the hair needs to be a certain length before it can be waxed, and it's not what I find an attractive length), and feeling sort of bloated and pasty anyway. God forbid I should thus fall into any of these categories.

The room at UCB was one I've never worked in before. It's not often used for figure drawing. So I was struck first by how small the stand was--which limits what I can do on the gesture poses--and then by some really horrid graffitti someone had painstakingly inked onto the canvas surface of the stand with a purple ballpoint, going over every line several times to make sure it would be legible.

I hesitate to reproduce it here, but I suppose I must so you can understand why it really threw me off my feed for pretty much the whole day. Beside a very poorly drawn figure of a voluptuous naked woman, someone had written
I pose Nude--My legs apart... My pussy open & half the artists stare & after class wants maybe to "get together" for a drink--they want to fuck me! and I always fuck a few...
Ew. And again, with feeling: ew. I stood there for a moment, silently absorbing this vile aphorism as the teacher said something to me I didn't catch. Just to its right, padding showed through a six-inch slash in the canvas. Ironically, considering my stress in getting there, the class hadn't started yet, so I went to the department office to talk to M, the office manager.

Who said, Oh yes, I saw that, and made a mental note to deal with it, but then I forgot. We don't often have models in there. Her supervisor, a lovely woman I used to cater with, came out of her office and offered me some coffee cake. They told me that there's been a rash of sexual graffitti in the building--in the stairwells, in the rack room, in the faculty bathroom. Someone's sexed up, said M. They think there's one person behind all the graffitti; the teacher thinks it's a particular guy.

When I get sexed up, I noted, I don't take it out on the walls.

Good point. I'll take care of it. Do you think I can cover it with marker? Or should I repaint the stand?

Take it out and burn it, I wanted to respond, but didn't. The three of us talked briefly about other things, M showed me pictures of her new baby and gave me a striped bedsheet to cover the stand, and I went back to work.

But it's been bothering me all day, for several reasons. For one, that had to be written by someone who can identify a model's stand as something other than a badly-padded table. So, a student in one of the drawing classes. Not a teacher, not a random person who walked in off the street, not a student from another discipline. A drawing student.

When I was first thinking about this, I kept going back to Anais Nin's "Artists and Models", a story I read years before I even dreamed of doing this work. The protagonist is one of Nin's exotic, heavy-lidded creatures; she has assignations with students on the second floor of a cafe near the school. Here to tell you: the real thing's not like that at all. In fifteen years of modeling, I haven't slept with a single artist (made out with one, okay, but that was years ago, and certainly not in the studio where we met or anywhere close to it).

But it doesn't even matter. What matters is that someone who has very possibly drawn from me--who has seen me naked--took the time to scratch out something truly hateful where I or my colleagues can't help but see it. It wasn't on one of the tables, or the wall over the sink where the students rinse out their brushes, or in a notebook. It was left as a message to us, letting us know in exactly what esteem the writer holds us. The more I think about it, the more it bothers me. Not so much in the "is that what people think we are? Glorified whores?" sense--although I did have a moment of that, and was able to shake it off. No, my reaction is more visceral. I go into every gig thinking, I am here to share something precious, I am here to help and inspire, I will stand on my head if that's what it takes, and some pissant kid whose fancy-dancy schooling is paid for in part by the (hefty) freelance-rate taxes I pay thinks he's being funny? I feel disrespected, and a little unsafe. Biking back to the BART station after class, every kid I passed was suspect. I was sort of hoping I'd see someone, some poxy boy, with purple ballpoint ink on his fingers, so I could run him over with Salome. But no such.

This isn't the first time I've considered dropping or thinning out the university gigs; I prefer working for professional artists for several reasons, most of them tangential to this story. Right now I can't afford not to work in the schools, though, and sometimes I have a really good time working with students. I dunno. Today was sobering.