I sat for a painting recently, my first time as a painting subject. I’d sat for a photographer once, several years ago. But somehow this painting felt different. More vulnerable, despite the fact that this painting was a face/head portrait only. Interesting. The photographer in question had been a fat woman, someone who I knew thought of me as attractive, and worked to portray me that way. The painter is a friend, a thin gay man, someone I haven’t seen in a long time and hold dearly but don’t really know all that well.
We had a great time catching up on our lives before the painting began. We talked a bit about politics, community, spirituality, art. No shortage of stuff to get pretty deep about between us, as is true for so many of my New Mexico friends.
He did a sketch first, which was a small painting meant for him to get a feel for what it was like to paint me. It was fascinating silently experiencing him work. He painted very quickly, dancing back and forth from the canvas and the palette, looking at me but not at me. It felt intimate to be part of his trance, to watch his face and body twist and turn while he and his brush did the dance, and he muttered to himself about colors and inspirations as the creative spirit moved through him. I was contemplating non-self, feeling what it was like to detach from my identity and just experience being in a body, and just being seen as that, minus all the identity.
When he turned the sketch around so I could see, a sense of attachment arose. I loved it, and wanted to identify with it. I felt proud to think this image was a representation of ME. The image looked kind of studious, butch, sexy and masculine. While he prepared for the larger painting, we talked about the experience a bit, about the creative trance and being looked at but seen with a different gaze.
Then he did the bigger painting, meant to be the “real thing.” I was into it, yeah, a bigger version of that sexy sketch! Me Me and more Me! When he revealed the finished painting, I instantly felt crushed and ashamed. I hated it! Could it really be that when he looked at me with that “creative gaze” what he saw was this giant pink Miss Piggy?! So many voices inside me — ugly, hideous, fatter than life, a failure of a woman, Ugh!
Amazing to go through all that process in one short, 2-hour session. What a strange, perfectly sequential and transparent experience of self. I’m still sitting with all the various reactions, and the new ones that are coming up. Knowing the “real” painting will be the one he puts in his show. Knowing I would so much rather be seen as whatever I see in that sketch. Seeing my mind go to that place of “knowing” I can’t trust a thin person to portray a fat body (MY fat body) in a non-stereotyped way that doesn’t bring up shame for me. Vaguely remembering those first moments, before seeing either painting, of experiencing what felt like complete non-attachment to self, and then how that went from a liberating experience to a self-congratulatory one, then the clinging that arose with seeing the first image and the intense clinging/aversion with the second. I can see that I will be learning from this very rich experience for a long time to come.