“Perhaps the most enduring and content-loaded subject in art history,” is how Clint Brown, professor emeritus at Oregon State University, describes the nude.
“It’s a lot like doing Yoga,” says local model Sharon Collier, “but nude, in front of a lot of people.”
Brown and Collier have different takes on the nude because Brown is the juror for the “Au Naturel: The Nude in the 21st Century,” the art show currently at Clatsop Community College’s Art Center Gallery, with an opening reception 6 p.m. Saturday, March 7, and Collier models for classes at the college and for local artists.
Begun by CCC art instructor Kristin Shauck, “Au Naturel” is in its seventh year. This year it received over 600 entries from around the world; 54 were selected by Brown for exhibition. And for the third year in a row, a show called “Nudes Downtown,” inspired by “Au Naturel,” will be the focus of Astoria’s Second Saturday Art Walk, on Saturday, March 9. Work by local and regional artists, and some artists participating in Au Naturel, will be shown at all the local art galleries, as well as at the Astoria Coffee House and Dots ’n Doodles art supply.
Both shows will exhibit the nude in what Brown calls, “a diverse range of expressive possibilities.” You will see paintings and drawings in a variety of mediums and in styles ranging from classic to abstract, from political and confrontational to enigmatic or surreal, and from personal to mythical. All these images, no matter how dissimilar in other respects, have one thing in common: one or more nude models. It is the very human concern with the body that links all these works, and it is all but impossible to properly render the figure without a model.
But what does the model get out of it? The artist gets a work of art and the satisfaction (and perhaps a sale) that goes with it. But what’s in it for the model? For one model it’s a kind of performance.
Sharon Collier began modeling 10 years ago when she was a student in Texas. “I was studying a lot of forms of dance and yoga and theater. It was the exhibitionist stage of my life. I wanted to be performing, and the college art department needed models.” She discovered that, “it’s very empowering to be totally exposed to people, every nuance of your body exposed, and they’re drawing you. It’s an art form. ‘This is me,’ you’re saying, and once you’ve shown people everything you’ve got, there’s nothing they can take away from you.”
Today Collier’s motivation is different. A new resident of Astoria, modeling is part of her exploration of the extensive local art scene: “It’s a way of finding my groove in the community.”
Collier is quick to dispel ideas that some people may have about modeling. “It’s not that sexy,” she says. “Sometimes you’re freezing in some starving artist’s studio because he hasn’t paid the utilities, or you’re cooking like a rotisserie chicken under a lot of hot lights.” And it’s harder work than you might think, especially the long poses. “If you turn your head this way,” she moves her jaw a few inches to the left, “you think, no problem, but after 40 minutes your neck and shoulder muscles are like rock.” Then there are the reclining poses, when Collier has been known to fall asleep. “It’s very unprofessional,” she admits. “You lose all definition.”
Collier, like any art model, undresses outside the classroom and enters wearing a robe. “You have to remove any element of lewdness,” she says. “To undress in front of them would be a kind of strip tease.” She says that the first few minutes with a new class, especially beginners, can be difficult. “There’s a certain buzz; no one looks at each other, but after a while I’m just something they’re drawing.”
Modeling for an individual artist has a different dynamic than working with a group. “A deep intimacy has to evolve,” she says, especially if the project is a long one. “Your personalities have to match. It’s sort of like picking a spouse.”
The work at this year’s “Au Naturel” is diverse, it is good, and you have an opportunity that few people have, to see a first-rate show devoted to the nude. This time, as you stroll from one work to the next, take a moment to consider the model as well as the artist: What was his or her motivation? Why did that person choose to model for this artist?
And you might also consider one more thing that Sharon Collier has to say about modeling: “It’s pretty cool. Everyone should experience standing naked in front of a bunch of people. They might realize it’s not so bad.”