In my twenties, I stripped off and posed, nude, for a pottery class. It was great, so liberating – and, yes, I would do it again!
It started, as so many things did in the mid eighties, with a string of conversations in the pub.
‘I’d like to draw you!’ said one man.
‘I’d love to paint or photograph you!’ said another.
‘Why?’ you may well ask.
Because, though in no sense conventionally beautiful, I had a certain Pre-Raphaelite look about me – and still do, come to that! – which had an aesthetic appeal to the artists amongst my friends.
The other thing was this: Because I was away with the fairies a lot of the time, I gave the impression – on paper, at least! – of being more fragile and soulful than I actually was.
So, the first one drew me – a wistful, large-eyed portrait in black and white which I have, sad to relate, lost somewhere along the way. And the second one, having dressed me in vaguely mediaeval-looking violet silk, having braided my hair back from my forehead and having provided me with a caged bird to hold, took snap after snap after snap – and, from that afternoon’s work, created two stunning poses of me in faraway mode, both mentally and, by the illusion of the lens, chronologically.
And then came the offer I found so enticing, amusing, outrageous, liberating and wonderful, that I leapt to attention and said, ‘Ooh, yes please!’ almost before words had trickled from the speaker’s uncertain mouth.
This lady, a local potter, was looking for what are euphemistically referred to as Live Models for her weekly Pottery Class.
When she asked, ‘Would you be willing to be a Live Model?’ the little devil inside me wanted to reply, ‘What? You mean as opposed to the Dead Variety?’
But I didn’t: Waste of a bloody good riposte, but probably diplomatic under the circumstances.
The designated day – a Thursday, as I recall – came round and I made my way down the hill to the venue, in the middle of town.
It was a large studio, with lots of long wooden working benches – and heaters, on what felt like full nuclear blast, depending from the high ceiling.
Red clay lay around in exciting looking piles – and other tools of the trade (wire doodads, knives and so forth) were sprinkled hither and yon.
The Chief Potter explained to me that I would be paid each week: A hat would go round the class, and people would (I sincerely hoped!) drop their change – ‘Or a blank cheque!’ as I said somewhat cheekily! – into its mouldering and smelly depths.
What I had to do in return was whip off my clothes and then settle into the pose, or poses, decided upon by the class.
How did I feel that first time? Was I worried that the men in the class would be revolted by my less than perfect figure? Knowing me, probably! But, there was also something fantastic about removing every last stitch of garmentage and just being me, just being proud of what I did have – and bugger what I lacked or had too much of!
I remember, as if were this morning, that I got unclad (or dropped ‘em, as you might say!) behind a beautiful Chinese printed screen – and then popped out, curious and unashamed!
I know I was utterly down-to-earth about the whole thing! I know I twirled and posed a bit because it felt so good to be naked in front of artists! What an exhibitionist, eh? Yup: Guilty as charged!
Ironically, my physically lazy, nay slothful, character stood me in marvellous good stead when it came to the nude modelling lark: I was able to keep still for long periods of time, and holding a pose was no problem at all!
And, hugely gratifying for one so lacking in self-esteem, the ‘clients’ rated me extremely highly: Thought I was beautiful and sexy and a bloody fabulous model. Does a girl’s heart – amongst other parts! – good to hear such things, doesn’t it?!
One pose I can recall almost as if I were still locked into its sensual embrace. Let me bring this full circle and share with you why and how.
Yesterday, opening my Christmas presents, I found a wonderful picture, painted by Derek Stenner, one of the people who came along to that Pottery Class all those years ago. The back story is long – and, in many ways, sad – and I shall give you only the happy bones.
Derek is now both friend and relation, and he is a brilliant artist. A while back, we showed him the original 1986 photo of me, and asked if he would do a painting based upon it. This he agreed to do, bless him.
I unwrapped the large canvas – and was astounded, moved, delighted: Superimposed upon one another were two views of the purple-clad Pre-Raphaelite twenty-eight year old Alienora – and, to the right, a border of pale amorphous shapes.
Suddenly, I realised that this Fey Realm border was, actually, two of the poses from that long ago class – and there, in front of me, were two versions of my naked younger self.
One I looked at and was unable to get a connection; the other – a pose in which I am curled like a cat (or possibly a corpse!), with one hand clearly visible – brought back an instant physical memory of lying like that for half an hour or more, under the blasting heaters, whilst the potters moulded clay into the shape of my body.
For all I know, there may still be models of that pose out in the world somewhere! Isn’t that a weird thought, eh?!
Did I get paid? Oh, yes! The members of the class treated me with great courtesy and generosity. And I used to make them laugh because I was so vulgar, uninhibited and, even then, bawdy in my speech! Hmm! Some things never change!
So that seasonal gift has given me vast pleasure – and brought back happy memories – on all manner of levels.
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