Naked attraction – when still life imitates art
Look, I don’t profess to be an expert on muff grooming. Yes, in my younger years, I’ve had the occasional bikini wax but I’m a martyr to ingrowing hairs nowadays so a quick buzz once a month with the hubby’s hair clippers – grade two – keeps down there mostly neat and tidy.
But this lady had definitely tried a Bermuda at some point. Her tiny triangle was a neat rug of wiry, silver hair but the rest of her area was mainly sparse, stringy tendrils sprouting from her sagging mound like a pubic ‘Day of the Triffids’.
I was transfixed but wasn’t there to compare bushes. I was there because of a tumour; my cousin Jen. She’s okay, for now, apart from an absent immune system and frequent brain fog but she says, ‘Better than being dead’, which is more than fair enough.
Anyway, since her operation, she’s been stuck at home with a redundant car and a semi-absent husband who services oil fields in Azerbaijan for half the year. She was climbing the walls so we’d started going out for coffee, cake and conversation. And that’s how it all began.
Jen is genuinely one of the nicest people I know; if Snow White skipped off the celluloid and into a Costa, that’s Jen. I guess that makes her sound a bit saccharine and she is, normally, but when it’s just the two of us, she ditches Disney, lets loose a dirty laugh and even dirtier secrets.
The last three years have been harrowing so I think she deserves as much fun as we can find, and if she feels well enough to venture out, I’m happy to drive us wherever she fancies. And that is why, on a chilly afternoon last December, we were taking a life drawing class at the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea.
Ageing mons pubis
Now, Jen is an artist, a good one, trained in fine art and all sorts so she was used to this set up, but I was most definitely not. She apologised afterwards, said she’d ‘accidentally’ booked the wrong session, but no one muddles up Life Drawing with Make Your Own Christmas Cards, no matter how foggy your brain gets, so I call bullshit on that!
Plus, she found it far too entertaining; I was the opposite side of the room to her and could clearly hear the occasional snorts of choked laughter coming from behind her easel. So, there was I, surrounded by folk who could actually draw, with an ageing mons pubis at eye-level.
And, to make matters worse, this was an advanced class, so there was no introductory chat, no talking, just a completely silent room, a blank piece of A3 and an impressively bendy lady called Brenda.
Hand on heart, it was the most uncomfortable, awkward and embarrassing two hours of my life. Strangely, it wasn’t the nudity, which I got used to surprisingly quickly, but rather because I was genuinely lost, 100% clueless, not knowing where, or even how, to begin. Honestly, I wasn’t far off tears.
Thing is, I’ve never been good at art. In junior school, I still vividly remember coming last in a school competition with my picture of a donkey’s head; even my form teacher had roared with laughter when I showed it to her and that, probably, scarred me for life.
So, this situation was mortifying. We were the last to arrive and couldn’t sit together, which made everything that much worse. Plus, the only spare easels were at the front so I knew that too many eyes in that room could see every line I drew. When I imagine what they must have been thinking… I’m truly breaking out in a cold sweat just remembering it.
If there had been an easy way to exit, I’d have done a runner but the room was packed, the door was blocked by drawing boards and I don’t move as fast as I used to; I’d already dropped my walking stick, twice, and had garnered black looks, so I was trapped.
Both nipples & a side boob
The tutor, Tobias, ‘Call me Tobes’, padded quietly around the room, checking progress and proffering advice in passionate, hushed tones. Whenever he glanced in my direction, I’d stop and pretend to consider a different angle, doing that arty, measuring thing with pencils, squinting and pursing my lips in faux concentration. Sometimes I’d tut, combining it with a slow headshake, as if the muse had temporarily abandoned me, before getting busy with the eraser.
We had a couple of brief breaks, mainly to allow our model to stretch, eat a banana or change position. You might think I could have escaped then, but I was wedged amongst a mess of easels, chairs and artists and there was no easy way out – not without asking at least fifteen people to move their stands and artistic accoutrements.
Plus, I was there for Jen and couldn’t simply abandon her, especially as she was clearly enjoying herself. Leaning back in my chair, I could just see her, black graphite in hand, sweeping strokes across her paper with an artistic flair and a freedom that mocked my tentative little marks.
Maybe I’d just chosen the wrong drawing medium? I’d gone with a reddish crayon which crumbled beneath my sweating fingers, the nib becoming thick and rounded within seconds. The woman alongside gave me a gentle nudge and passed across a sharpener and HB pencil.
Now she was a proper artist; you could tell that from her large blue smock, Kate Bush hair and paint-daubed fingernails. Plus, her drawings actually resembled the model, from some angles anyway.
She was lovely though, giving me a reassuring smile and a cheery thumbs up, and I appreciated her gesture of support – even if it was redolent of a doting mother encouraging a supremely untalented toddler.
However, the one positive of damp palms was that, by the end of the session, I had, what I thought, was some nicely graduated blending across both nipples and a side boob.
Feigning a feint
Tobes left me alone for the first hour, though I noticed he kept glancing over at my scribbles. He did several circuits of the room but then decided he couldn’t simply watch any longer – I clearly needed help.
He stood directly behind me, the room so silent I could hear his breathing as he waited for me to put something – anything – on the fresh paper I’d procured from my arty neighbour.
In those long, long moments, nausea threatened and, if I’d had a paper bag to hand, I might have tried hyperventilating; I even considered feigning a faint because this was it, a nightmare where, in spite of severe artistic ineptitude, I had to draw… something.
So, I grabbed my newly sharpened crayon, marked out a couple of small ovals, added what might have been arms and drew the only thing I could… my old, familiar donkey head.
Tobes moved away then, announced it was time for another break and spent the rest of his time as far from me as was possible. I think he knew how unutterably relieved that made me feel.
When it was, finally, over, Tobes approached for a little chat as I was hastily scrunching up my ‘art’, ready for the bin. Turns out, my ponderous sighs, and brilliantly rendered donkey, hadn’t fooled him and he, very gently, suggested that ‘… you might prefer the Potato Printing Christmas workshop next Saturday’.
Waiting by the door with her excellent sketches under her arm, Jen cracked up and had to leave the room and I told Tobes that I’d think about it.
In the gallery’s comfy coffee shop, free and giddy with relief, we had recuperative lattes and toasties – though it took us a while to order because we were completely convulsed with laughter and could barely speak.
When I dropped her home later, Jen apologised again and, of course, I forgave her ‘mistake’. Like I said, it’s all about finding fun and, if it’s at my expense, what the hell!
But since then, I arrange our adventures; we’re off to see a ‘world-famous’ psychic in Llanelli next month which should be a laugh.
And, after Easter, we’re starting ‘Yoga for Beginners’… with the wonderfully bendy Brenda.
The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery offers courses throughout the year, suitable for all artistic abilities. As well as numerous galleries, there is a tasty coffee shop with a comprehensive menu and a gift shop stocking all things arty. The gallery is easily accessible for disabled visitors and there is blue badge parking directly in front of the main entrance on Alexandra Road.
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