Way back in the day, as they say, 1964 probably, I opened a door with some trepidation and saw my first naked woman. Or nude woman. I’m still not sure how to describe someone who is intentionally without clothes, for artistic reasons. And as a job. I enrolled in the Saturday morning life class at Goldsmith’s College, London, and loved it. The tutor was Sam Rabin, a painter (you can see his work in Tate Britain) and a champion wrestler. Fortunately, not with his students. He’d nudge you off your seat though (called a donkey – the seat, that is) and with a stubby black pencil he’d demonstrate how to look, how to transfer the naked/nude person in front of you into two dimensions. Totally inspiring.
One Saturday I walked into the life class and there sat a naked (near-naked in this case) and very elegant person with a purple rinse, rouge and eye make-up – the Naked Civil Servant himself, Quentin Crisp, earning every penny of his 7/6d (38p) an hour. Of course we boys sniggered quietly at the Stately Homo of England at the time – shame on us. Since then, on and off, I’ve been going to life classes. The quality comes and goes, and I remember being much better at life drawing than I am now, 50 years later. But I don’t have those drawings, so I don’t know.
It takes intense concentration, a juggle of measuring with flow, accuracy with spontaneity, precision with feel. But it’s all about looking. At naked people.