There was a time, long before arts council grants, Centrelink retraining schemes and selling my belongings on Ebay that I made a living doing something decidedly different, I was a life model. When I explained to my father what I was doing to pay the bills he no longer had too, his reaction was surprising ‘well Louise I’ve always thought you a bit of a role model myself, tell me – are there children involved?’ My mother chuckled to herself as she decanted the final box of wine she’d been saving into my limited edition Sesame Street flask she’d found in a recent spring clean so she’d have something to drink on the way to her line dancing classes and relished in explaining to my father that a life model was someone who took their clothes off for strangers, it just involved a little more turps and a little less masturbation say as you’d find in strip clubs. Once that was cleared up my father’s reaction was a lot more consistent with his character “el aumento de t mi hija a ser prostitute, no con una educación de la escuela privada, nadie ahora le casará. le destinan para morir solamente.” (which loosely translated means ‘no daughter of mine is a prostitute, not when I paid for private school education. No one will ever marry you and you will die alone”).
It wasn’t like I’d sort this lifestyle out, I could barely take my own clothes off in the dark in front of my blacked out mirror, clutching a string of rosemary beads and lamenting the mark my under wire bra made in my chest cavity without cringing, but it was something about this unknown bohemian artistic world that held an undeniable allure for me, a middle class girl from Brighton with a penchant for ill-blended Australis foundation and then there was the simple truth that surely like any good 18 year old Catholic school girl, I’d be a fool to give up the chance to catch syphilis off a 50 year old disheveled hobby painter who’s wife didn’t understand him, nor did the prostitutes he frequented on St Kilda Rd.
Of course I’d be lying if I didn’t on admit on some level that I was excited by the idea of meeting older more experienced men who knew that a way to a women’s heart was not by treating her like an un-lubricated sock puppet, men who would flower me with gifts like limited edition penguin books that had been well thumbed because they’d kept them since they were boys and the pages not only smelt of life experience but of lovers past and present and let’s be straight- at 18 I could do with all the practice/ training I could muster – (let’s just say the idea of bleaching the hair above my upper lip didn’t really come to me in a light bulb moment until about 21 and as such I’d been following a strict diet of beggars can’t be choosers).
I posed for all sorts of people and soon realized that a surprising number of people will pay good money for a young women to sit naked in their lounge room/studio/backseat of their cousins Daihatsu and paint them, and also that most were devoid of any sort of talent and as such most paintings of me often looked liked that of a right handed kid boasting to his mates that he’d given it a go with his left. In fact out of the 5 or 6 regular artists I worked for, only about 3 were actual ‘I vote for the Greens’ proper artists and the rest just wanted someone to talk to and paint naked (and yes, that’s as awkward as it sounds). By 20, I realized that I like most people never ever want to see a swollen prostate again and how it hurts to pee ‘here I’ll show you’ nor did I want to know how you might take out our local government if a revolution was forced upon the City of Port Melbourne.
Many of these conversations and people blended into each other, well that was until I met Francine*. She was the wife of a very, very well known film maker, his 4th wife if IMDB had anything to say about it and I had come highly recommended to her by the boy who made her coffee at the local café who’d I posed for once (he’d gotten a gift voucher off his aunt for the local Tafe college) and he couldn’t help but rave about my jaw line (obviously this caused much confusion with many potential clients given the insinuations one can make about a girl with a good jaw), bur Francine was different – there would be no look of bitter disappointment of her face when I refused to go down on her.
We talked out books, feminist literature and what she hoped to achieve out of her latest series of paintings. She wanted to explore violence and women and for the first time in my career as a life model I honestly thought that somehow my naked physique, on canvas could have the potential to change the world, that one day it would hang in the Louvre and a whole new generation would stand in front of my image, as if on a pilgrimage and delight in trying to figure out if I was smiling and frowning, yes I might even have gone as far as to have imagined that at some point my visitors would out number that of the Mona Lisa and I would still be alive to enjoy this adulation, but in some horrid twist of fate I’d never get to enjoy the fame properly because the aforementioned syphilis would’ve rotted half my brain away and I’d have been institutionalized for the better half of 25 years.
It was decided that I would pose for a series of pictures about a woman trying to escapes the ‘constraints of society’ (please be aware, these were well before the days that hyperbole became common place). As a progressive woman I was fine with this, more than fine, fuck, I was adamant that this was my fate, well that was until I saw the chains and the blindfold and that whip laid out on the table in front of me. ‘I thought you were going for a more subjective definition of violence’ I offered up, as a reminder of sorts to Francine ‘I thought we decided against a more literal interpretation, you know because of all those damn pesky health and safety rules’.
She rolled her eyes at me and laughed ‘come on Lou, you’ve got to break a few eggs to a make an omelet’. Whereas I did agree with her on the whole issue of eggs being needed to make an egg based dish philosophy, I did struggle to see how that had anything to do with my being bound and gagged to a chair for the better part of a day, 4 hours drive away from the city and with a mobile phone whose battery had just died.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not opposed to a little bit of ‘how’s your father’ but it usually involves ‘safety words’ and to be blunt not with people who are paying me by the hour. ‘Maybe if you don’t tie me up properly…’ I muttered. ‘And what would be the point of that Lou, to deny the world truth?’
‘What if we made a deal not to tell the world? You know just keep it as our little secret?’
‘Don’t you want to help the women of the world Lou?’
‘Yes, I’m all up for that, I’m just not sure how entirely I’d be doing that, legs spread, chained to a dashboard.’
‘You can’t argue that we’re not on the same page Lou, visually you chained to a dashboard would be a very striking image’
‘Yes, and so are snuff films but the general consensus is that no one in a civilized society needs to see either of those things’.
Francine took another line of coke and eyed me up and down and I felt a pang of guilt, after all I was all that currently stood in her way of being able to create her opus dei, well at least until she got back to town and hired another girl to lure out to the country with the promise of revolution.
‘I’m sorry’ I told her ‘I can’t be tied up for art, it just makes me feel exploited and to be honest it goes against my whole feminist philosophy and I thought after everything you said it would go against your philosophy too.’
Francine paused for a moment.
‘Listen Lou, I’ve never been particularly that interested in changing the world, I’m just an old women wanting to get her leg over and what with your chronic acne and poor posture I thought you’d be a sure thing, but hey that’ll teach me to judge a book by it’s cover.’
She fingered the strap-on she that had somehow magically appeared from her hand bag and lamenting her defeat dropped it back into it’s home of darkness before taking another line of coke and a swig of wine and I couldn’t help but think to myself that it was going to a long, naked walk home.