Archive for Thursday, March 26, 1998

T THE ROMANTIC STUFF OF MOVIES

March 26, 1998

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Models must be careful not to put themselves in a dangerous position.

The Hartford Courant

Rebecca Austin shifts from a standing pose to one in which she is bent over supporting her weight on one foot and three fingers. It looks something like advanced yoga.

In response, the semicircle of 14 artists around her shift, too, and flip to new pages in their sketchbooks.

One woman shifts her weight to another hip. Another, Chris Larson, who helps coordinate these Friday afternoon life-drawing sessions at Manchester Community-Technical College in Manchester, Conn., moves to stand in front of her easel. She looks ready to draw a gun, rather than Austin's form.

In ``As Good as It Gets,'' the sight of Helen Hunt's bare back moves an artist, who's lost his will to create, to draw again. He fills page upon page with nude drawings of Hunt, who is at first reluctant to pose in the buff and then is transformed by the experience.

In the movie ``Titanic,'' the nude-modeling scene is a transformative experience for both artist and model. There are similar scenes in the new film ``Great Expectations'' and in one episode of TV's ``Ally McBeal.''

You know what, though? Hollywood lies.

Real live-sketch models tell stories of obsessive fans, weird propositions, and -- for the serious models -- a continual defense of their virtue.

Safety comes first

For about $13 an hour, the models who range in age from their 20s on up are sometimes treated like props, and sometimes not even that well.

``It's a very strange profession for some,'' said Betty Friedman, executive director of Farmington Valley Arts Center in Connecticut. ``It's very straightforward, for others.''

Chris Moore is a triathlete who started modeling recently in Stowe, Vt., after an artist approached him at a gym where he works out.

His motivation had little to do with art.

``I needed the money,'' Moore said, laughing. ``Now, I do it any time I need to make extra cash. It depends on my situation. I found there's a large demand for it.''

Austin has walked into several art shows to find her nude form displayed on the wall, and that makes her proud. In her family, Austin can count on support from her husband, Michael, and her sister-in-law and brother. (For the record, Michael even brags, if anyone asks.) Her mother will not speak about it. Her in-laws tolerate her work, but the same can't be said for her grandparents.

To protect herself physically, Austin refuses to pose for erotic photographs and she insists that no artist or teacher touch her during her modeling.

``For some people, I am an object, but I have a hands-off policy,'' she said.

For further protection, Austin uses a post office box to receive mail, and she doesn't accept calls if she can't tell where they originate using caller ID.

Also, she will not pose nude for a male artist without someone else in the room -- this as the result of a sexual assault that occurred after a modeling job. Police would not press charges, Austin said, so she now takes her own precautions. She carries a police whistle and a can of Mace in her big bag of towels, robe, scarves, CDs, hair clips and comfortable shoes.

`God greatest work'

Austin is as matter-of-fact about her safety as she is about her body. She has modeled for bridal shows, but says she would need to lose a good 25 pounds for regular modeling, or gain 25 to model plus-size clothes.

Her size makes her a favorite among some of the artists, including Ray Champy, another Manchester-area artist who helps Larson organize the Manchester life-drawing class.

``There's a lot of subtlety to drawing women,'' Champy said. ``Men tend to bone out more. Women are the most difficult thing to draw. They're God's greatest work.''

When that is met with chortles from the surrounding women, Champy amends, ``I only say that when people are talking about art. Otherwise, people think I am hitting on them.''

Austin has modeled full time for two years. She models at about 35 places, Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. She averages two or three classes a day, and works maybe a third of the weekends through the year. Right now, she's booked through the end of May.

``I think what makes a good model is that there's something interesting about their bodies,'' Larson said. ``Some people have boring bodies, and it has to do with the kind of poses they make. When Rebecca comes in, she's incredibly beautiful.''

In general, life models pose for one- and two-minute stretches, during which students work on drawing motions and action lines, or for as long as 57 hours, which Austin once did for a sculptor. Moore said he finds that maintaining a pose takes practice.

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