There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Three area artists’ models bare all about the job’s hazards: potential psychopaths, fake artists, and people who draw imaginary shorts on them.
THE KILLER SKETCH.
When she was in college, F. took off her clothes for $16 an hour. F., 23, worked as a model for figure drawing classes at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, a job that required her to stand in the center of a circle of students, disrobe, and strike a series of poses while the beginning artists sketched her form. About six months into her tenure as a nude model, F. posed for a painting class where she held the same position for several hours—naked, seated, reading a book—while artists painstakingly reproduced the image. During a break, she wandered around the classroom to silently critique the students’ work. “Hey, that’s me all dismembered,” she remembers thinking of one student’s painting, which portrayed her with all of her extremities disconnected from her body. “Everything was just jumbled up—arms, legs, torso, head too probably,” she says. “I thought, ‘That’s kind of gross. OK. I’m going to go back and sit down now.’ It freaked me out.” After the session, the artist cornered her outside and offered her a ride home. She declined.
Lise Bruneau, a local actor, was modeling for art classes in San Francisco in the early ’90s when she decided to begin advertising herself for private sessions. She reported to one artist’s hotel room in the Tenderloin. The venue put Bruneau on edge, but she kept an open mind. “I thought, ‘Hey, artists are poor! Artists don’t have any money! This could be normal!’” she says. Still, she made sure to inform a friend of her whereabouts, just in case the guy turned out to be weird. He did. “I met him, and he was a very unusual, awkward guy, but I wasn’t going to let that bother me,” says Bruneau. “Again, he was an artist.” But when Bruneau asked to review the artist’s portfolio, he refused. “I don’t understand why we can’t just get started. You can go change in the bathroom, or you can take your clothes off right here,” he told her. When Bruneau insisted on seeing the work before undressing, the guy reluctantly produced a couple of drawings. “He showed me two crayon drawings. Stick figures. One was an oblong shape with another circle above that and a pair of pigtails on top,” she says. “I was seized with terror when I saw those drawings. You don’t hire a naked woman in your hotel for an hour and not be an artist.” She left the room as quickly as possible.
THE NAKED MAN YOU SHOULD NOT CROSS.
If you’re a local artist’s model who has hastened an exit after finding yourself alone with an artist whose vision includes extracting your limbs, or whose crowning achievement is a pair of crayon renderings of little girls, you can always call David Quammen. Quammen, who has a decade’s worth of experience in figure modeling, started the Figure Models Guild in 2002 to help eliminate such inappropriate encounters in the sometimes misunderstood profession of posing nude. “Nudity is so touchy. If you even start to make the sound—’nuuu’—all of a sudden everyone is up in arms and it becomes a big deal,” says Quammen, 70. “The goal of the guild is to treat the subject artistically, to increase the level of confidence and professionalism in the field.” In addition to his Guild duties, Quammen runs Georgetown’s MOCA DC gallery, which supports the work of figure models and artists through such annual exhibits as “Heads and Tails: Fine Art Portraits and Tasteful Backsides.”
But Quammen’s strangest task may be working to eliminate the scene’s weirdos. The Guild currently maintains a membership list of 125 models—70 male and 55 female—a resource that Quammen discloses to artists only after a proper vetting. Despite the precautions, Quammen has addressed a variety of bizarre complaints over the past eight years. Once, a group of female models approached Quammen to report that an artist had been staging sessions as a way to corner potential dates. Several months ago, Quammen received a phone call after a model thought she had spied a hidden camera on an artist, and summoned the police. A few years ago, Quammen reprimanded a photographer who got 30 minutes into a session before informing his nude model that he would be finishing the set without his clothes on. When the Guild first started up, one man calling himself a photographer showed up at Quammen’s monthly open drawing session for ogling purposes. “He wouldn’t draw. He would just look,” says Quammen. “Whenever a male stepped up to model, he would go outside in the lobby or out in front. But whenever a female got up, he’d be back in the room, watching.” Nude modeling tourism is now against Guild policy. “If you’re not drawing, then you’re not to be in the area where the model is,” he says. “There have been cases of people coming in for the wrong reasons. I try to weed them out as effectively as I can.”
As a model, Quammen has encountered the opposite problem—artists who refuse to look at him at all. Since the D.C. area is host to dozens of colleges, figure models are offered constant sessions in front of artists who are, by definition, amateur. “It isn’t uncommon for some male students to react in strange ways to their first encounter with nude male models,” says Quammen—particularly if the students are reluctantly fulfilling an art requirement for an unrelated discipline. Quammen has modeled for male students who have been so incapacitated by their homophobia that they refuse to draw Quammen’s genitalia. Some have addressed the phobia by sketching tiny shorts over his penis; others obscure his crotch in shadow; a few have outright refused to draw him, a process that would require them to actually look at a naked man. “As the students get used to male models, some overcome their aversion and draw what they see. For some, however, it becomes obvious that their homophobic reaction is rooted in a deeper paranoia,” he says. “It’s usually a small number who retain this attitude. On the other hand, most classes adjust rather quickly to it and realize that drawing genitals is part of the process.”
“If somebody comes to me with a problem, I won’t automatically take their word,” says Quammen. “I’ll have a discussion with the artist and the model, and if it doesn’t get resolved, I’ll act on it. If it is a model, I’ll take them off the model registry and kick them out of the Guild. If it’s an artist, I’ll let them know that I have a lot of clout in this field, and that I can blackball them throughout the whole area if necessary.” Quammen says he’s been forced to ban only a few artists for inappropriate behavior. He’s also ejected a handful of models from the Guild, for mostly mundane reasons—absenteeism or tardiness at modeling sessions. But Quammen says that the awkward sexualization of nude modeling isn’t only a symptom of unprofessional artists. “There’s a younger model who will get an erection on purpose,” says Quammen. “He’s like a rooster just crowing out there, saying, ‘I’m a big man. I’m an alpha male.’ He’s very popular.”
Artwork by Keli Anaya