I was 17 years old and while waiting to enter the Central (School of Art and Design) had signed up for a weekly life drawing class at Tunbridge Wells art school. After a nervous bus-ride to my first session, my fantasies were dashed by that evening's model, a large middle-aged lady, and I soon realized that drawing a naked female body might have little to do with sexual attraction (although there would be exceptions later). Some of the models were fully clothed; after all, it was Tunbridge Wells.
The following year I was a Central student, initially studying graphic design, then painting. Everyone was supposed to do life-drawing, but most of the students avoided it, considering it old-hat. Even though I was already exploring abstraction, I wanted to work on my representational drawing skills, and regularly attended the life-drawing sessions. The variety of models was fascinating and I remember another large middle-aged lady, who although quite happy to pose in front of a small group of art students, insisted that the tiny windows of the top-floor studio should be covered so that no office workers across the street would be able to get a glimpse of her.
Quentin Crisp was an unforgettable model and made occasional appearances at the Central. He had been a fixture of the London art school scene for years, and would later become a celebrity when his autobiography 'The Naked Civil Servant' was published and made into a TV film. He had a very pale, almost marble-like body, wore a modest g-string and would assume poses based on Greek sculptures. He was a true professional and could hold a pose for an hour or so without budging an inch, but in the early 1960s that kind of pose was no longer 'cool', and attendance would drop noticeably on Quentin days. Coincidentally, I later met him a number of times when he lived on the floor below my then-girlfriend's place in Fulham and was honoured to enter his room, the contents of which were famously coated in thick dust.
One day, the few (mostly male) students were delighted to be faced with a young woman who apparently had never posed before. She was lovely, and I was smitten. I was looking forward to spending the whole day gazing at her in innocent (or so I thought) wonder and tried to think of some cool opening gambits. I never got the chance to try them out, as she felt unwell during the morning session and had to stop. I desperately wanted to step forward and say I would see her home, but was unable to work up the courage, and never saw her again.
It started as an ordinary day with a few students dotted around the studio waiting by their easels or sitting on their donkeys. From the changing room stepped a young woman who, as she disrobed, became a vision from the Arabian Nights: seductive, honey-hued, wearing gold slippers and an ankle bracelet. There was a stunned silence, and after she had settled into her pose, we began to scribble nervously away. After the morning coffee break a few more students joined us. Then lunch, after which the life room was unusually full and all the easels and donkeys had been taken. Following the mid-afternoon break, students and lecturers from various departments (including committed abstractionists, textile artists, and industrial designers) were shoulder to shoulder, jostling for a good position. By the end of the day, to coin a phrase, the place was heaving.
If you are wondering why I have no drawings to accompany the last two episodes, a lecturer lost my best work. It still hurts.
*This was the title of a nudist film which was shown at the local fleapit when I was about 15. I was too young to get in, but spent some time ogling the stills outside.