In her naked stillness, there was infinite peace, expanse, transcendence. Her body contorted like a beautifully broken corpse on the concrete floor.
The first 10 minutes were the hardest. Her body wanted to move, her muscles longed for fluidity, but she transformed her impulses into the release of abeyance. It required both her thoughts and her physicality to completely submit to her will. The only restraint was her own, the room, and the men watching her - looking at every detail, scrutinising her form devoid of its function.
She engaged a deep conversation between her will, her mind and her body, at an almost cellular level. Quiet the mind. Still the body. Breathe. Slow the heart. Let tension evaporate like desert rain. Let the bones be the scaffolding without strain. Create balance between the opposing forces of weight and effort.
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Become a conduit so energy flows through all the open space in this deceptively solid form. Come into accord with the air and let the emptiness create restraint. Exist beyond the perception of movement. Expand beyond the perception of inertia. And then it would happen, the shift into pure consciousness, pure perception. Once she was there, she filled the room and could endure the passage of time as they worked.
Vincent would let her know they were done by bringing her a glass of water. No one spoke. This was sacred space. More solemn and reverential than any church. She listened for them to break the stillness before she began to move. It would take a while for her to come back to now. She moved slowly, stretching, letting the blood pulse.
There were seven of them. All men. For some reason she didn’t attract women. There was one, once, at the beginning. But she complained about her not being fleshy enough, not enough contours, not enough light and shadow. The men were drawn to her because she was a dancer so her poses were daring and intricate, which gave them a lot to struggle with, and she wasn’t self-conscious about her body.
There is a power in being naked in front of the clothed. There is a freedom. The delineation of personal space clarifies. No one steps within arms-length – at least not in this setting, and the men always had a 6th sense about where she was in the room, like a low frequency to which they were all attuned.
She took the breath that brought her back into the room. Coming to was always a bitter sweet moment. She loved the smell of turpentine and oils, but it made her dizzy and she reached for Vincent to steady herself. It was awkward for him. He was easily aroused. Edgar immediately got her robe. He didn’t like her walking around ‘like that.’ He covered her before she did her ‘rounds.’
She liked to walk around the room to see what they had painted of her. Seeing their work meant more to her than getting paid. The way they depicted her flesh – their focus, the colours, the light. What they chose to paint, how they chose to depict what they saw. She tried to see if what she experienced in that space was revealed in their interpretation of it.
Vincent often painted her green and yellow, with blues but never reds. Pablo accentuated her breasts, ass and thighs no matter what kind of pose she created. Oscar only did charcoal studies of her. On many occasions, he would reposition a limb or her shoulders, and her mostly white flesh would be pocked with his black finger prints. He used the studies later to paint in his own studio.
They all had their techniques and rituals. They all repeated the same recipe hoping for a different meal each time. Even in art there is banality. The safety of the known, the familiar, the repetition lulled them into believing they could recapture that first inspired moment – but they often missed that the inspired moment came out of a crisis. You can’t see the world differently if you keep doing the same thing. But the fear of not being able to put brush to canvas, the fear of not reaching their standard, stifled the risk. Snuffed it out completely to the point that they convinced themselves they were artists, when really they had devolved into successful craftsmen.
She was usually one of the last to leave the studio with Vincent. He always paid her cash after she was dressed and everyone else had left. She hated that moment. Being paid. It made her feel like a whore, and what was the difference really? She was selling her body. Did it matter that the way she did it resulted in frustrated artists leaving their marks on used canvases? At least prostitutes provided pleasure. The artists were usually frustrated by the lack of time, their lack of perspective, they grumbled about proportionality and contrast, the shape of muscles surrounding bone and the delicate brush strokes necessary to depict flesh.
She gave the wad of cash to the homeless man who lived outside the studio and walked to her ’68 Beetle in the all but empty parking lot. She could see paper flapping under her windshield wiper. She looked around. How could she get a parking ticket in this lot? It ruined the serenity of mind and spirit she liked to linger in after she modeled.
When she got to her car, she could tell the paper was too big to be a ticket. It was a torn piece of sketch paper. She carefully lifted the wiper and looked. It was a pen and pencil drawing of her last pose. It was not from any of the artists in the room. She knew their work, almost better than they did. She looked around, but she was completely alone. It sent a shiver up her spine, and she fumbled to get her keys. She drove home shaken.
Over the following weeks, there were more drawings. They provoked something in her. They were raw, animal, sexual – almost grotesque but beautifully so. One was on the back of a flyer for a local taco stand. One was on a ripped open brown paper bag from the Safeway down the block. One was small and in such fine detail, she gasped when she saw it on the back of ¼ page leaflet for a club band performing that night around the corner in West Hollywood.
She went to the club that night, searching. She thought if he saw her in a different setting, he might feel more comfortable approaching her, but no one noticed her.
She went home in a kind of tailspin. She wondered if she should be concerned for her safety. If this was one of the artists in the room fucking with her. But no one in that room had the kind of talent and vision she saw in those depictions. Whoever this was, he wasn’t trying to draw well, he was trying to draw her experience, pull her out of the image. He saw her in a way no one in that room would ever dare. The shapes he used were angular, more bone than skin, more vessel than form, more ugly than graceful, more vulgar than sensual.
When she got home, she tacked up all the drawings on her wall and as soon as she stepped back to see each of them in relation to the others, a shiver went up her spine.
At the next sitting, she positioned herself with care. Something she had never done before. Thinking about what she was doing infected her process. The room wasn’t dictating her creativity, she was dictating to the room. It was a new dynamic that influenced a tension and vitality for the artists and for her.
She could be wild at the beginning of each session. She would do a quick succession of 5 minute poses, and being a dancer meant that she could contort herself in ways other models would never dare. The subsequent 15 minute poses taxed her a bit, but she could endure a lot for 15 or 20 minutes. But the last pose of the night was always for an hour. She had fumbled it a couple of times. If she was too ambitious, she would have to move before doing damage or passing out – but those nights were failures and she didn’t want to repeat them.
Tonight for the last pose, which she usually took laying on the ground, she sat in a chair. Her left knee up, near her chest, her right leg dangling to the side. It revealed her in ways artist models rarely do. She twisted her torso, resting her left arm over the back of the chair, and her right elbow on her left knee and she stared, with a hint of defiance, out the window into the azure twilight.
It was a much more difficult pose than she realised. She couldn’t release into it or go deep. Her body rebelled, and it was much harder to find ease. She had to watch. Her eyes unsettled the room. She had never posed with a gaze they could see before, and just as the room began to settle, she saw him, through the window.
Her instinct to move was too much and she convulsed a bit. She covered the movement by coughing, which would be forgiven, and then she tried to settle again. The contortion of the pose was painful. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t quiet her thoughts. There was no expanse. Who was he? She knew she had seen him…somewhere. She could barely make out his shape, but she had seen it before. The dawning of who he was caused her body to slip easily into release without taking her mind with it. It was a new sensation, letting her body slide into bliss while her mind remained aware.
She knew she wasn’t in danger. He could have done her harm many times, every time, and he hadn’t. She thought of how he saw her - revealed in the images he drew, and she let her legs fall open more discernibly. Pablo threw his brush in frustration, ‘Hold the pose! What is this?’ She made an adjustment to re-align her legs keeping them a little wider than when she had started. She never let her gaze on the figure through the window falter.
It was a fraught and productive session with more than a few pieces worth the canvas they were painted on. The agitation was good. It broke through the lull that had placated them for too long – much as they all only felt more than usually frustrated. They blamed her for what felt like failure because they were blind to the breakthrough. They were still ambivalent and impervious to the necessary shattering of their comfort in order to reach more profound heights in their work.
After the session, when Vincent came over to pay her, she asked if she could take half her payment in some supplies. She asked for a sketch pad, some charcoal and pencils, and she left finally feeling good that she had earned something from her efforts for the first in a long time.
She walked with the supplies to her car, but there was nothing on her windshield. She looked around, but he was gone. She walked to the back alley, but she was reluctant to walk through it.
‘Hey!’ She waited for a response, ‘You owe me a drawing!’ She waited again, ‘I don’t model for free!’
He emerged from behind a dumpster. He was still working on the drawing. ‘It’s not good enough.’
‘Good enough for what?’ She took a few steps towards him.
‘For you.’ He finally looked up.
She tried to relax her face. She knew she was scowling. He looked road hard and put away wet a few too many times, and she wondered what she was getting herself into. He was a talented artist, but so was Hitler. She didn’t have time to climb that thought ladder.
‘I got these for you,’ she began to hand him the supplies from the studio, ‘and take this.’ It was the cash Vincent had given her.
‘I haven’t earned that,’ he looked utterly defeated, like something was crushing him from within, and he knew he deserved to be crushed.
‘Is that what the drawings are? Because I give you money?’
He looked at her wondering what else they could have been to her.
‘Then I owe you far more.’ She looked more closely at him. He was not particularly attractive, and he needed a bath. His eyes were black and there wasn’t any light in them. His beard was a tangled mess and so was his hair. She wondered what she had expected? Had she some fantasy that he would look like Viggo Mortensen underneath all that grime, and she would fall for him and they would live happily ever after? Crazily, enough, yes, that was her fantasy. But he was real, and she had a problem with his reality.
‘C’mon’,’ she commanded, and she turned and walked back towards the studio. When she looked back, he wasn’t following. ‘C’mon!’ She wasn’t taking no for answer.
She used her key and went back into the studio. He followed. She locked the door behind them, afraid that someone might catch her there. She turned on the lights, and he walked slowly into the room.
An artist’s studio is almost a masterpiece in and of itself. The detritus of creation is a creation of another kind . Layers of Pollackesque colors cover every conceivable surface, mugs of turpentine and coffee set randomly within arms reach of easels in various states of disrepair, cans with every size and type of brush, pen, pencil, pastel, charcoal, alive and dead tubes of oils, bottles of acrylics, pallets of watercolors. The chaos of the creative mind laid bare like the html code of beautifully designed computer graphics behind a web page. She almost liked the space more without the artists in it.
He wandered by the easels looking at the discarded works. He looked closely as if he was absorbing the different perspectives and techniques. He knew the difficulty. He gave their work the reverence each deserved.
She came in with a towel, soap, shampoo. ‘There’s a shower down that hall. I’ll make some coffee.’ He couldn’t look at her when he took her offering. It was too much to acknowledge how far he’d fallen.
She watched him walk down the hall and disappear. What was she doing? She knew good artists who were assholes, and she knew that no matter how good their work, she would never get near them. She knew decent men whose work revealed their lack of depth.
She had been captured by his art, but was that enough to reach out to him as a man? What did a job or a home or a life have to do with how she felt about him? She hated money, so why did it matter if he didn’t have any? Why was she concerned with what it said about him that he lived on the streets? Was it really a sign of his deficiency? What made a man? Looks were too easy but they worked on her, and she loathed the shallowness that revealed about herself.
Her eyes sought out signs and symbols of what she had been socialised to believe a man should be, but she had spent her life in revolt of those same social constructs about being a woman. Why did it scare her so much to let go of those cues? What did it say about her that she was struggling to determine if he was worthy of her?
She admonished herself for the hubris of thinking he might even be interested in her until she noticed the drawing of her he had been working on from earlier that evening. It was in red pen. She couldn’t take her eyes off of her own as he drew them. The way he had captured her stare. They accused the beholder. 'Who are you to judge?' He made her bold, bewitching, daring. But was she really? Could she dare with him? She noticed he had left part of the drawing unfinished. He hadn’t drawn the part she had taken pains to reveal to him.
He came back in nothing but the towel. He was thin from the streets. Bruised in places. ‘There’s a washing machine back there. If I could clean my clothes…’
‘Have you ever modeled?’ She asked surprised by the words that were coming out of her mouth.
‘But you know how it works?’
‘They would jump at the chance to get a male model in here. You could earn a little money, get a shower, wash your clothes. Maybe once a week?’
He looked around. ‘Don’t try to save me.’
‘I would never presume to save. I was offering help. But go ahead. Wash your clothes - if you won’t consider it trying to save you.’ It came out sharper than she intended, but she figured he couldn't ask to use the facilities and then reject what even she thought was a brilliant idea.
He started to walk away, then he stopped. ‘You think because I have less than you, that you have the authority to be charitable and that I don’t have the right to refuse because I need. But how is that any different from a man who thinks he has the right to fuck you because you don’t have a boyfriend or a husband, and who doesn’t think you have the right to say no him?’ He looked her dead in the eye. She was dumbfounded so he continued, ‘This would be less ridiculous if I weren’t standing here in nothing but a towel,’ and he went back down the hall.
This time when she watched him walk away, there was no doubt in her mind. This was a man who could show her how to see the world differently and the utter rarity of him stuck her like an anvil. Her blood ran cold. If he didn’t need anything from her, what could she offer him?
She began to undress, aware that her clothes were a travesty of her self-image. She sat on the chair that was still in the center of the studio. She took in all of the empty space. Of course they could never capture her, she had never stood before them devoid of all pretense. Raw. Open. Alive. Present. She had always used her nudity to hide in plane sight. Now, she was truly naked, truly seen.
She took the earlier evening’s pose and waited for him.