Some friends of mine hire up a figure drawing model every week or two, so I went this time around. It was good to get back into something that actually makes me feel like I might have been involved in fine arts at some point in time.
I haven't drawn a figure from life since college, and that was longer ago than I'd usually like to admit, but tonight did remind me of one of the more formative studio experiences I had my freshman year of school, and since I started this blogging stuff today in order to document stories from the recent past as well as ten years ago, I thought it was appropriate. I will say, in advance, that the following story, while not as intensely offensive as other anecdotes that I've seen online, is not for the faint of heart, so if you happen to be offended by male figure models, nudity, creepiness, and the watery thing that happens in your mouth when you think you might throw up, then I suggest you stop reading this. Still here? Good, I thought so.
Ah, the mid-to-late 1990's. Oasis was, though making a strong attempt, failing at being the self-proclaimed greatest band on earth, techno music was unknowingly somehow paving the way for the shitty pop music that the kids are listening to these days, and a lot of things didn't quite make sense. I, as a freshman art major, for example, looked like this (taken by my roomate for a Drawing II self-portrait assignment):
...which seemed like a good idea at the time. Ridiculous ponytails notwithstanding, classes seemed to be going really well heading into second semester, and my grades were the best they would be until halfway through my junior year, when I started going to studio before the bars.
Understand that I didn't really think that figure drawing would be that big of a deal. I'd seen a minimal amount of naked people by the time I was nineteen, and I had spent the last four summers drawing insulting sketches of wasted redneck troglodytes, so spending some time drawing naked people didn't really seem like it would be all that challenging. That was until I witnessed my first nude model experience. The following is a true account. I can't stress that enough.
I don't remember his name (nor would I write it here if I did), but he walked into the room in a zipped-up one-piece speed suit, which stayed on for about fifteen seconds after he entered. My first thought was that even if I was going to be naked in front of a group of people for three hours, I think I'd afford them the courtesy, or, for that matter, respect, to keep my speed suit on while I was stretching. The model apparently had no such compunctions, and let me say that watching a pear-shaped naked dude do lunges four feet away from my easel wasn't really what I had envisioned an hour beforehand when I woke up. And so the students set up in a circle around the model, and class began.
For those of you that haven't taken figure drawing, gesture poses are short, fifteen to thirty second poses to loosen you up and get a feeling for the space and proportions of your model. This is much more difficult to do when the model is pulling off poses from what I think was a combination of an After-School Special about epileptic seizures and Madonna's Like A Prayer video. There were a few awkward glances between classmates, but we sojourned on in an uncomfortable silence, with the exception of some classical music in the background that seemed inappropriate for various reasons. The long poses followed.
Understand that drawing the human form is a lot like drawing a still-life, in that you're analyzing a combination of light patterns and shapes in relation to each other and committing it to paper, which is probably why I didn't notice that our model, in a reclining position, was in a dead stare at my friend Stephanie for at least ten to fifteen minutes before she left the room on the verge of tears. She didn't leave the room because he was staring at her; she left the room because he was staring at her and obviously reverting back and forth between flaccidity and a pretty mean semi. It should be noted that the speed between reversions made it seem like the guy was waving at her, so I don't really blame her. Also, watching a guy headbanging his wang to Mozart made it a lot harder for the class to continue sketching without making uncomfortable grunts and throat-clearing noises.
Our professor, a very astute and attentive one, either wasn't paying attention to ErectionFest '97 going on in the center of the room as she made her way around us, or she didn't know what she could say in broken Korean to stop this from happening. I mean, what can you say? "Uh, sir...aaah, if you could just do us a favor and think about baseball...or, uh...your grandmother or something, we'd...um...well, we'd really appreciate it." A couple more girls and one guy fell casualty to the multiple awakenings of Mighty Kong and had to leave the room. Finally, our instructor, to our relief, gave the kill sign on the pose and told him to switch up.
And this, and let me stress here that I can't even make this stuff up, is when he laid down flat on his back and grabbed his ankles. Thankfully, his head was toward me, but remember here that the class was arranged in a circle around this guy. I know that, at that point, we had a semester of drawing still-life under our collective belts that taught us a lot about the importance of objectivity in drawing anything, including the human form. I know this. But when you're in class at eleven o'clock in the a.m., things take a turn for the worse, and you're staring straight up someone's asshole, it's going to affect you personally. Some of my compatriots couldn't look away until it was far too late. One of the kids from my dorm gagged, and the guy next to him put his hand over his eyes and looked down. Everyone on that side of the room immediately used their drawing boards as shields and disappeared behind them; the model might as well have been firing arrows out of his starfish. A tall girl was the first to take action; she stood up holding her drawing board in front of her face and slowly walked to my side of the room, and the mass exodus followed. Half the class quietly got up, boards to their faces, and made their way over, where they remained for the rest of the class. The kid from my dorm was later quoted as saying, "That was...aw. That was like...like looking into the sun. That shit is burned into my retinas forever. Gimme another cigarette, man."
So, yes, there were other figure drawing adventures in the following semesters. There was the first-timer who started crying a little bit, there was the girl whose boobs were bigger than her head, and not in a good way. But I'll always remember my first. Thank you, creepy guy who proudly walked out of that room in his speed suit. Thank you for teaching me that there will never be a situation that I can absolutely trust not to be awkward ever again.