Still Lives

The muse for hire at $8.50 an hour: unveiling the naked truths of Houston's art models

"I met a fighter pilot over at a friend's house," Scott says, "and he said he couldn't do it [model]. That made me feel good."

"In modeling, there's a certain amount of exposure on both sides," Tammy says. "Not only am I naked, I'm exposing myself. These people are so kind to me, but had we not walked through those doors, we'd never have run into each other. I never would have been invited to Ben's show. Those people don't go to the Circle K."

At first, Scott found the models aloof. "But then they found out I was modeling, [and] they were friendly. Sort of like a brotherhood or sisterhood."

"And you share that physical suffering," Tammy says. "You're hurting in front of these people. You have that in common, which I don't think artists understand."

"I think artists have their own separation from the models," says Scott. "They're intimidated by the models, by the nudity. When you're up there on the modeling stand, they treat you like an object, but once you come down, they clam up. The male students are the most intimidated."

"I wonder if they feel like they're staring at naked people?" Tammy says.
"One artist," Scott says, "Manet, I think -- said he looks at an apple differently if he's going to paint it than if he's going to eat it."

That Saturday I find Scott and Tammy in the sculpture room at Glassell, where Tammy is posing for a marble piece of Scott's. About as long as a man's forearm, the cool white sculpture is just beginning to show the forms of three women, all modeled on Tammy. Tammy takes a break, wraps herself in a rose-print sarong and squats on her modeling stand to smoke.

"This is my favorite room in the world. Seems like I've spent a lot of time here," Tammy says.

"Whenever I come in this room, I get the urge to take off my clothes," Scott says.

Compared with the other warehouse-size studio classrooms at Glassell, the sculpture room is intimate. Light comes in through two glass-brick walls and falls on the many sculptures. The clay works in progress stand covered with garbage bags to keep them from drying out. Tammy pulls away a plastic covering and finds a flat relief of herself. Two crude heads of Richard Fielden stare down from some utility shelves. Below him is another Tammy, and a model I don't recognize.

"That's Elise," Scott says. "And next to her is Nellie." Going around the room, Tammy and Scott are able to identify almost all the models. The artists of the pieces are not mentioned. We find a half-dozen or so Tammys.

"There are Tammys all over Houston," Scott says. "Just like Kiki was for the artists in Paris." Surely a member of the models' Hall of Fame, the Parisian model Kiki posed for most of the artists of the Movable Feast era, most especially Man Ray (who was one of her lovers), and came to symbolize the joie de vivre of the Montparnasse demi-monde of the 1920s. "Chaim Soutine broke up his furniture so Kiki wouldn't get cold," Scott continues. "They wouldn't do that for me. But for Tammy they would."

Scott asked me if I'd like to model for him. He had a 622-pound hunk of limestone he'd been saving. He demonstrated the pose -- seated, legs pulled up, hand reaching across waist to cup breast, head down. Would I do it? Oh, what the hell, sure.

We meet in the Glassell sculpture room, its plastic sheet blocking the view from the larger work area. Scott shows me the pose in his sculpture book. I nod, but I'm nervous. Is he ready for me to take my clothes off? I want to seem ready, but not do it too early and stand around naked. He sketches some lines, figuring out how he's going to fit the form -- my form, that is -- onto the block of stone. A middle-aged sculpture student wanders in. Now? Should I take them off now? I don't know if the etiquette permits my stripping while the woman is still present.

I pull my loose dress over my head, the woman still in the room, and suddenly I'm not there. Dress over the head, Ann leaves the room. My head is still here, the cognizant, attending, detail-noting brain of Ann. And body of Ann, with its breast and plane of thigh and curve of belly, is in plain sight below, but damned if it doesn't feel unattached to me. As Scott requests an arm higher, a leg tucked in more, I can arrange it with dispassion, like moving decorative items around on a coffeetable. Plain and simple, I vamoose. My body must be wooden, although Scott is only taking photographs to sketch out the lines on the stone. The long poses will come later, as he gets into the substantial chiseling and the detail work. He says one or two hours a week for a month should do it. He takes photos from different angles -- behind me, standing on a chair looking down. I can't hear the camera clicking, is he done? I move my head to look. No, he's taking another photo. Bad model. It's harder than I thought not to move. It all feels uncertain and tenuous.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Houston Concert Tickets