Touching the Artist

artist and model 1

A young woman flees from war into a foreign country. She has no money and no way of earning any, so she sleeps in the market place on a doorstep, washing in the public fountain and begging for scraps from the tradespeople. Then a wealthy woman and her maid notice her as they buy vegetables and take her home with them. As she devours the food and drink they provide, they tell her that she can earn her keep there by posing as an artist’s model. She is shocked and asks if she must pose naked. The Madame of the household assures her that it is easy work that she herself once did, and that her husband is the artist in question and she can vouch that he is honourable. The girl agrees nervously and is taken on foot to her new accommodation on the mountainside in the artist’s studio.

The artist is a sculptor, his three-dimensional female pieces in all shapes and sizes, covered with dust sheets, decorate the studio. After a night’s restless sleep in this remote location, daybreak comes and the sculptor arrives to start work. He is gruff, businesslike, asking her to sit in the light from the window and remove all of her clothes. She is reluctant at first, but something makes her feel safe with the aged sculptor, his mop of white hair and large moustaches, his steady selfless eye.

They work together everyday in silence, she learning to maintain her position for long hours while he sketches and makes small clay models of her in various poses. Sometimes he is frustrated and destroys what he has drawn or molded, but their relationship develops and he gradually begins to talk to her about his passion for the natural world and his love for human nature. They know nothing of each others’ pasts or future plans, and never gossip or make worldly talk.

Occasionally, they move locations out into the forest or higher up the mountain-side. He paints her in oil on a large canvas by a small mountain pool where she swims when resting, catching a young trout for him by hand. One day, she jubilantly treads his new batch of clay for the life-size piece he will make of her, her coarse laughter contagious.

The work is going well, the beautiful image of her emerging each day from the wire and rag structure covered in brilliant white plaster of Paris, but for the finishing touches he needs to actually touch her.  He must ensure he has all her curves in the right proportion. For the first time, he fingers her young flesh standing behind her, her wide shoulders, the back of her rib cage, the curve of her voluptuous calf, with his eyes closed with no single desire. He wants nothing from her except to touch the shapes Nature has endowed he nubile body with, and she, closing her eyes also, wants nothing from him. There is an intensity and a newness in this act; it is uninterrupted, timeless, two templates intersecting. Now he can finish the piece.

One day, the sculptor comes to work earlier than usual to find the model is stretched out on her bed naked, sleeping. He enters her room, which he has never done before, and sits delicately on the edge of her bed. She opens her eyes and looks up at him, he looking intensely into her eyes. Then, she slowly reaches her hands up towards his face, and closes her eyes to touch it lightly, tenderly. He sheds silent tears to be touched.

The sculptor’s wife’s relative has become sick so she must go to nurse her, and as the war is over, the young model needs to get her papers in order in the nearby city. Both women leave the sculptor alone simultaneously, parting affectionately and due to come back soon. Back at his studio, with the help of workmen, the finished piece is carried out of the dark into the bright air. He watches it intently as it is carefully moved around, as it comes to life.

The bearers position it in front of the studio beside the most magnificent view of the mountain peaks and ancient forests, and he sits, unable to take his eyes off it against such a backcloth. He takes his knife to smooth a little plaster on an elbow, the curve of the pelvis, the nape of the neck, then finally he is satisfied. He backs away and sits at his table, looking down momentarily to cut a slice of bread. He lifts the crust and drizzles olive oil on it, taking a bite, still staring expressionlessly at his creation. He is neither pleased nor displeased with it, because he is not separate from his creation or from the model. In the same way, he is not separate from all of the glories of Nature which envelop him, and make up his seamless reality.

The crust of bread finished, he stands and walks calmly into the studio to bring his rifle. The sound of the shot rings out into the crystal air.

artist and model 4