Friday, August 26, 2011

Would you pose for a nude portrait?

I did at 45... and it was one of the unexpectedly liberating experience of my life

By Kate Battersby

(Perhaps this is a way to help introduce a reluctant spouse to naturism? - Ken)

Alan seemed a pleasant enough chap. I had known him for precisely 25 minutes when I took all my clothes off in his house and stood in front of him entirely naked. He gazed at my body in frank assessment . . . Before you dismiss me as a shameless hussy, let me assure you it really isn’t what you think — I am about to become one of an increasing number of women who pose for a nude portrait.

. . . when I was 45 . . . when I decided to have myself painted nude. The idea of a regular portrait had appealed to me for a long time . . . To see ourselves as others see us — I loved that idea. Moreover, I had just spent two years losing four stone. For the first time in a decade I felt confident — joyous, even — about how I looked and I figured that pretty soon everything would be heading south. I had always thought that nudes were beautiful and I was feeling about as near to beautiful as I was ever likely to. Above all, I knew that my readiness to be painted nude had a lot to do with the mental freedom of being in my 40s. In my 20s I could never have contemplated the idea, so lacking in confidence was I, even though I now realize that I looked as good as anybody my age. Women are all too good at finding reasons to loathe their bodies. It seemed to me that having my portrait painted nude wasn’t about raving narcissism but more a case of making peace with my physical self.

Artist Cloe Cloherty says . . . ‘Everyone I’ve painted nude — mostly women, but a few men — has said it’s a completely positive experience . . .’ These aren’t people with Hollywood bodies, but they find affirmation in the process and the result. ‘For example, I was commissioned to paint a woman nude because her husband had died the year before. She did it in a sense of renewal.’

Fellow artist Sam Story agrees: ‘It’s definitely a rising trend, and most of the nudes I do are women in their 40s. It’s never about narcissism. Some clients don’t like how they look in clothes, but love the results when they see a portrait of themselves nude.’

. . . I chose an artist by going to a big art fair, where I liked the watercolours and charcoal drawings of Alan White. . . His only concern was to reassure me. All I needed to do was bring a robe, and not be nervous. . . That isn’t quite how it was for me. For one thing, I spent hours beforehand on hair, make-up, nails, and even tanning, even though I knew the style of Alan’s work meant that none of these details would matter. It lent me an armour of pretend poise . . . Some people are so nervous they turn away at the front door, apparently. Others, according to Alan, decide not to go ahead when a partner vetoes the idea. At least I turned up.

His wife Judy was there . . . I was directed into a room where I changed into my robe, and went into Alan’s studio . . . Alan smiled encouragingly. ‘Shall we start then?’ he suggested. . . ‘Do I take my robe off?’ I asked . . . Alan smiled again. ‘That would be best,’ he advised. Yes, I thought. Get on with it. I looked at the ceiling. I looked at the floor. I took a deep breath, then I took my robe off. The sky didn’t fall in. The world kept turning.

Alan asked me to stand with my back to him, my face in profile. Within one minute, I realized that the difficult part in all this wasn’t being stark naked, but keeping still — really still, for almost any length of time. When you can’t shift your weight gently from foot-to-foot, your muscles start to seize up bizarrely quickly. . . After 15 minutes, he told me to relax. I put my robe on again and went to look at the results. There I was, on paper in charcoal. I loved it. Alan . . . worked on some details for five or ten minutes while I had a rest, and then I posed for another portrait. This time when I dropped my robe it wasn’t quite with Samantha-esque nonchalance, but the nerves were gone . . .

Self-consciousness about perceived imperfections is, of course, the female norm and something nude portrait painters are very familiar with and expert at addressing . . . in [Sam] Story’s experience, some of her subjects choose to celebrate their bodies in a way that puts to shame my own pathetic concern about a bit of tummy flab. ‘I have painted women nude who are post-operative breast cancer sufferers,’ she says. ‘They want to be painted as they are, not as they were, to find new beauty in themselves.’

. . . Lorraine Price, a company secretary . . . was far from confident about herself when she commissioned Story to paint her nude at the age of 46. ‘I used to be a size eight and now that I’ve had three children I’m a 14 . . . It wasn’t a lifelong ambition to be painted nude, but a girlfriend had it done and I liked it, so I went ahead and I loved the result. It made me think about myself differently. It’s a large canvas in oils, perhaps three foot by five foot. The picture hangs in the family room at home, where my friends see it and my son’s friends also. You can’t tell at a glance that it’s me, but if anyone asks I always say. ‘My son was 14 when I had it done and he’s cool with it.’

As for me . . . Two hang on my bedroom wall at any one time. Those who see them are usually startled, always intrigued, and never negative. . . Personally, I didn’t have the pictures done for anyone else to say anything. They were, and still are, about me and for me. And I couldn’t be happier.

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