Clothed Artist and Model
He is leaning away from her, but only to gather himself for further motion, pulling his body back like a slingshot. In this return—which will never take place—he’s about to push off his left foot, to glide back to her. His gaze intently marks her body, but she, too, is going nowhere, encased in an open robe of plaster.
He seems unaware of his own frame, his sad-seeming slouch, his mess of clothes, his slack, crooked chin. In his concentration, he sees all of her, none of himself. With respect to her body, he is omniscient.
She is leaning back, luxuriant, letting his omniscience occur. Whether this is a matter of adoration or lust or mere monetary transaction is unclear. You can assume she’s been paid to be his model, a nude figure to be covered in plaster-of-paris. Their intimacy is undefined by language or voice, for they are forever silent.
Who are they? What is their story? There are some clues, small details you might consider. Yet these clues are merely things that inform and heighten your subjectivity—any conclusions you make are offshoots of you, the viewer, and your cosmos.
The male gaze captured in a museum. Pornography as art. Or is it art as pornography? The female as object to be consumed, to be owned, to be casted in thick, gooey plaster. Iris, retina, lens. Rod and cone. Neuron and synapse. Image written into memory.
A work of art of a work of art as it’s being made. Process as product, cast of a casting. How ironic: in its completion, the work is of something forever incomplete. Perhaps this is a metaphor of our lives, how we’re always making ourselves but never really finishing. Our corpus. We concentrate. We try. But in the end we change very little.
The zen of sculpture, the forever-frozen moment, the sad and lovely truth of the body—which is the truth of our lives, really—laid bare. The body after it has passed the apex of youth, when cells begin to die away more quickly than they are replaced. The brutal, slothful erosion of time. But these two, they are forever—as long as the museum curators take proper care of them.
They are several feet away from one another, and in this space there is loneliness, even though they are intimates and we are intimate with them, in this dark room in a museum in the center of Denver, a bustling, dusty town. The nude: a counterpoint to striptease? The light and dark in the room, the tilting poses of model and artist. Adam and Eve without The Apple or The Garden. Or Eve and Yahweh, Him sculpting her from a single rib, the apple yet to be painted red.
His boots, the chair, his pants, all trashed. Her luxuriant robe of plaster. She is cold, her nipples erect. Her mons shaved clean. Her long auburn hair is bobby-pinned into a bun. He must feel some sensuality in all this, artistic vision be damned. His hands hang limp and in his eyes there is not the brilliant flash of desire or creativity, the twin (and perhaps related) lightning bolts of lust and inspiration.
This is a messy business, draping plaster on a woman’s body. Worse than spackling a wall before you paint it. Though both are a kind of work. Maybe all art is merely this: work, mess, desire, the loss of self that goes both ways—seer and seen.
You see and then you know what you want to know about them, which is perhaps what you want to know about yourself.
Not their stories—artist and model, for who could ever know the trajectories and vectors of their hearts?—but yours. The heart you know but often fail to recognize. The one true story that floats like a cloud in your brain, but you never take the time to figure out the denouement. When you’re open, when you allow yourself, art sometimes does that for you. Art shows you your truth, as austere and cold as the empty corners of the museum itself.
A shard of knowing, and sometimes, a certainty. Nakedness, sure, but what do you see? The self and making and want laid bare against the grind of time.
Michael Henry: "I’m co-founder and Executive Director of Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an independent literary center located in downtown Denver. My poetry and nonfiction have appeared in places such as 5280 Magazine, Georgetown Review, Threepenny Review, Pleiades, and The Writer, and I’ve published two books of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own and Active Gods."
The Ekphrastic Review
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