Naked ambition

By Melissa Walsh   Photos Yanni

From the time in the 5th century BC when the nude male body in Greek sculpture was used for portrayals of ideal heroes, life modelling has been a traditional form of art. However, while life drawing is still accepted as an integral facet of modern day art, there is still a certain misunderstanding of these nude models. Peninsula Essence talks to male life model, John, to delve into the truth behind this naked ambition, and find out what it is really like to take your clothes off in front of a group of people.

“I actually became a life model to supplement my income as an actor,” said John, who regularly poses at Oak Hill Gallery in Mornington. “I have been an actor for years but the work is very sporadic so I realised I needed to find another source of income. While I do voice-over work, short films and commercials, as well as being a marriage celebrant, there is still not enough to live on in the Australian industry.”

For the 50 year old, life modelling was actually inspired by a film role he played.

“I had to do my first nude scene and was rather nervous about it but it turned out to be easier than I anticipated. It was a very tasteful film and gave me the inspiration to try life modelling,” said John. “I then went along to a life modelling training workshop where they taught how to pose and feel comfortable with your clothes off. It was very nerve wracking at first standing in a room with mostly naked people but you got used to it and then it was about learning.”

Being part of the Life Model Society workshop, John found that he was able to pick up the various poses needed and says the feedback from the other models and artists was invaluable.

“It was one of the best things you can do when starting out in the profession. Then if they think you are good enough, you become a member of the Life Model Society and are recommended for jobs around Victoria.”

While the demand for male life models is slightly less than  for females, John still managed to start getting work after his life modelling workshop.

“I was very fortunate that the work built up quite quickly and within six months I had up to 10 sessions a week booked. Still to this day, I would say it comprises around 50 per cent of my income,” said John who has no qualms about what he does.

“I know there is still a slight stigma attached to it which is why I am discreet about whom I share this part of my working life with, but I really do enjoy this aspect, and the artists are always so grateful and respectful. It is a wonderful environment to be in with creative people and some of their work is outstanding,” he said.

Reminiscing about the first time he modelled for a life class, John says he was incredibly nervous.

“I remember it vividly. It was at the Princess Hill Community Centre in Carlton with a group of very experienced artists. A summer salon was run by the life model society, and the date was January 17,” said John. “You have a robe and then you disrobe to get into a pose. The life model society is very careful with the guidelines and you must have a break for five minutes after every 20 minute pose. It was a bit scary and there was one particular artist who got upset with me for an arm change after coming back to a pose but he then figured it was my first time.”

John says the hours a job usually lasts vary from two to three hour sittings to four day workshops.

“The usual for a group of artists will be around three hours but there was one job I did that went for four days. It was a clothed portraiture workshop for Archibald artists where I had to sit in the one position for six hours, four days in a row. By the time I got to Thursday I was exhausted,” he said with a laugh. “The great thing was they also gave me my portrait to keep and I treasure it to this day.”

Far from the provocative sexual impression that the wider community have about nude modelling, John says it is nothing but professional.

“One of the big misconceptions is that you are a sexual object for the artists but this could not be further from the truth. I have never encountered that at all. There are strict guidelines to ensure the models feel comfortable, with no phones or photography allowed,” he said. “It is neither sexual nor kinky but an ancient form of art and an important part of humanity. After all, there is nothing more human than the body. The human figure is all about shapes and it is these different shapes that challenge artists. Human beings are made in all shapes and sizes. As I have muscle definition, I think most artists or schools employ me for that feature and I make sure I offer a good variety of poses to inspire as well.”

While John is very open about his life modelling to friends and family, he is more discreet when it comes to the wedding side of his career.

“As a marriage celebrant I am more discreet about this part of my work as I don’t want the brides to think I am a stripper although I do take my clothed off,” he said with a laugh. “But there is nothing sexual or provocative about it. It’s another reason I don’t do hen’s nights. Imagine how embarrassing it would be if one of the hens was a bride of mine.”

As for his family, John says they are all very comfortable with his work as a life model.

“They are used to me heading out the door to go to a job, whether it is a role I am playing for a show, a wedding or a life modelling gig,” he said. “When I go out the door they are not sure  whether I will be performing  my dinner suit to my birthday suit.”