Inside The Not-So-Private Life Of A Nude Model

06/08/2015 08:52 am ET


(Illustration by Dexter Miranda)

It’s a situation that would terrify most people: sifting through Craigslist ads, meeting with a stranger, and immediately disrobing. “It’s never been a big deal to me,” Claudia Eve says, appearing a bit bored by the over-cautious sentiment.

“There are certain trigger words I have learned to steer clear of,” the art model explained to The Huffington Post. “I will never respond to an ad if someone uses ‘female’ as a noun, but if it’s an adjective, that’s okay.”

Claudia looks like a runway model and acts like an artist: thoughtful and assured. Her towering, spindly frame is hidden underneath a button-up shirt and blazer, her short, rain-spritzed hair tucked behind her ears. The pouring rain nearly drowned out Claudia’s hushed voice as she sipped a black coffee in a Manhattan bookstore.

The Montreal-born model began posing nude for artists at 19. She had experience in fashion modeling and dreams of being a curator, so the unconventional teenage decision to be an art model made a surprising amount of sense.
“I don’t really remember my first session,” she says. “I don’t think I was nude for that one; I was wearing a kimono. I still wear a kimono mostly, but of course now I take it off.”

For the past 10 years Claudia has been modeling on-and-off, charging between $20 an hour and $500 a day, depending on the gig. (The flexible hours and control allow her to curate on the side, often incorporating the artists she models for in her own shows.) The atmosphere dictates the specifics of the pose and choreography­ -- a Wednesday night “Drink-n-Draw” night would require a far different state of mind than a one-on-one session with a specific painter and his vision.

“The quicker poses are performance art,” she explains. “The longer ones I call subsidized meditation.”

Craigslist is where most of the matchmaking goes down, making every “day at the office” into a possible life threatening situation or once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“There was this one artist who turned out to be, like, a big artist. I just happened to answer his Craigslist ad.” Who? Postmodern pioneer David Salle, whose female forms are known to straddle the line between pornography and “abstract choreography.” The two have been working together for years now, which means Claudia gets to summer in the Hamptons, roll around in paint (channel Yves Klein) and make all other less savvy Craigslisters infinitely jealous. “I have an algorithm,” she says. “I know how to find the right gig.”

Her algorithm doesn’t account for every possible situation, however. “I haven’t had anyone be creepy or disrespectful to me,” Claudia says, flipping through the client list in her memory. “This one man, he wasn’t a creep, he was an affable, older Asian man, but his art was like, manga anime style. So he had me in poses that were way sexier than I normally like to do,” Claudia says, spreading her legs and slouching forward to illustrate for the entire coffee shop. “He was very nice, but I didn’t want to be manga! That’s my face on there! If I don’t like the work someone makes, I won’t model for them again.”

Still, even with less overtly sexual positions, the tension can be as palpable in the room as the paint fumes.

“Yeah, I’ve slept with a few of the artists,” she dryly states, with neither embarrassment nor hubris. One tryst occurred during a contemporary version of Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2,” in which Claudia was climbing up and down said staircase, naked, for hours. She pauses, continuing with a hint of uncharacteristic sentimentality: “There is not much of a story. We bonded. We saw each other for a little while.”

While there is a certain romance to this image, it also borders on an old-world muse and master power play that feminist artists and activists have been working hard to move beyond. Yet from Claudia’s perspective, the artmaking process is a collaborative one, and not dependent upon restrictive standards of beauty. “Some people choose me because of how I look, but others turn me down. Some say, ‘she is too thin.’” In Claudia’s eyes there is no ideal nude model. “Many of the artists I work with aren’t even drawing me as a human. There are architects and animators who find the shapes hidden in the bodies.”

For Claudia, one shoot for artist Spencer Tunick -- who photographs large-scale nude installations, with hundreds, even thousands of bodies at a time -- nicely captured this sentiment.

“There were so many different types of bodies; everyone was so happy. There was one man in a wheelchair. There was a young girl who was clearly anorexic -- she had long, fine hair growing all over her. Someone had brought her there to show her all of these people with all of these different bodies. It was beautiful.”

A version of this interview was originally published in 2012. The professional nude model preferred to keep her surname confidential.

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