“Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves…” ~ Walt Whitman
Growing up female in North America you get the sense from a very early age that you’ll never quite measure up. Your hips will be too large or your breasts too small. Your IQ will take second place to your dress size. I count myself among the body mercenaries. From dieting to bulimia, monthly cellulite inspections and wrinkle checks, living in this female form can feel like internment at times. A couple of months ago I escaped from my barbed wire mind and moved into the mansion of my body.
It happened in an afternoon with Nicholas Pearce, a visual artist in Victoria, BC. I met Nicholas a few weeks earlier at a show of his work: lush, sensual paintings of flamenco dancers and female nudes. Besides discussing his craft of painting he talked about his class, Through Artists Eyes: A workshop for women’s self discovery, as a way for us to see beyond the old imprints we carry of our bodies. The course is two-fold: first each woman has a private nude photography session with Nicholas; next all the women come together and each of them embarks on a painting of herself from one of those photos.
I don’t see myself as a painter, but I did have a secret longing to be an artist’s muse. Perhaps I’d seen too many movies about Picasso, yet I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being immortalized on canvas. Yes, it’s pure ego, but growing up average looking in a beauty worshiping society makes a woman wonder what it might feel like, just once, to be on the other side of the looking glass.
I tempted the fates and emailed Nicholas to ask if he might consider me as a model for one of his photo sessions. His answer was “yes”, and I was glad I sensed no fear at the prospect of this rare adventure. As I checked in with my body on the way to our appointment I found a peace that resonated and assured me that this was the right thing for me to do.
Arriving at Nicholas’ home and studio, I welcomed the ease I felt in such a safe and warm space. Yes, warmth felt really good on many levels. There was no guarantee he would paint me from the product of our time together; the photographs and the session were just for me. Surprisingly, perhaps, I had no expectations of how it would unfold and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve never been much for public nudity so I was surprised at how comfortable and supported I felt in this private sanctuary, surrounded by paintings of sensual women who had been there before.
A portion of what happened during that hour and a half is in the exquisite photos Nicholas gave to me afterwards, but more of it lives in me than in those images. I have a story of sexual traumas from different chapters of my life and I felt a healing take place in that room. I stepped fully into the power and beauty of my body, supported by the trust I held for Nicholas and his professionalism. I came away from the experience awake, alive, fully present in this magnificent vessel of shape and form, sinew and flesh. I moved differently. My steps carried a new quivering vibrancy. Facing the intimate vulnerability of my sexuality freed a portion of me I never felt expressed before.
This week I got an email from Nicholas. He had a painting of me from one of those photos. I went out to see it, a bit nervous of what it would look like and what it would bring up for me. As I sat down across from it and opened my eyes I was taken aback by the beauty I witnessed on the canvas. There I was, yet it wasn’t me. It was light and colour, the paint and the brush. I didn’t see myself as hips and arms and thighs and breasts. I saw wind and churning clouds, breath and blood, sensuality and strength.
I also was reminded that I am not my body. I’m just a resident within it. If the paint on the mansion is chipping or the plumbing doesn’t work as well as it used to or if gravity has its way with the foundation, those are not reflections of me. They are merely the changing canvas of time and of life. I am so much more. And so are we all.
For more information about Nicholas Pearce and his classes visit The Art of Nicholas Pearce
Gathering Storm by Nicholas Pearce
Excerpt from “I Sing the Body Electric” by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass, published 1900.