By Michele Walsky
Would you bare it all for the sake of art? Terri Mullen is one of several portrait models the art department employs and she has been sitting for MWCC students for nearly a decade. As an artist herself, she says it is a way to stay in the art scene.
“I get an education every time I’m in a class,” she said. “I get inspired to work on projects I’ve abandoned.”
But that is not what draws her in.
“I went into modeling to liberate myself,” Mullen said. “The body is art as a form. It’s something beautiful, not something to be exploited.”
Dealing with body issues and a personal crisis, Mullen admitted she got into modeling by accident. After two years at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she returned to Massachusetts and posted flyers for odd jobs around Concord to help pay the rent. She was contacted by a sculptor finishing her master’s who asked Mullen if she had ever modeled. Mullen had not, but the woman sounded legit and the pay was good, so she gave it a try. From there, the artist introduced Mullen to other art groups. Her professional reputation led to other modeling gigs for solo female sculptors, which led to the deCordova Museum in Lincoln.
“It was for a well-known sculptor and the first time in front of a group, so I was nervous,” Mullen said. “But when I arrived, I was relieved it was just for the face.”
The next sitting, however, was not.
“The first time being naked in front of men, I thought, ‘Oh, god!’ But the artists were always so nice and professional; they made me feel relaxed,” she revealed.
Having a long-standing rapport with art professor Tom Matsuda at The Mount has helped her feel comfortable too. “He is so patient and dedicated, he knows how to use materials in the poses to capture slow movement with fabrics,” Mullen said. “He has a way to loosen up the class.”
While the instructors choose most of the postures, Mullen sometimes adds her own flair to the mix. “I have some understanding to make it interesting, but there’s a play between the degree of challenge with the artists and myself.”
But that does not mean she becomes a contortionist. “I find a balance of something easy to hold [a pose and/or an object] but not too difficult for myself.” Even though Mullen stays fit, she explained if a pose is hard to stabilize, she will start shaking and it throws off the whole drawing. For each class, she will gauge the audience for their ability and get a feel for the atmosphere in the room.
There have been awkward times when beginners make cat calls or tried to flirt. When that happens, Mullen centers herself and focuses on her job. “I don’t pay attention to anything on the outside.”
Sometimes she receives thanks from serious students after a sitting. Shrouded in their gratitude, it is a gift Mullen treasures. It resonates the reasons she poses nude in the first place.
Bill Hurley, 55, is a former financial advisor from Billerica who has been modeling nude for nearly seven years. But his reason is not art-related.
“It’s a diverse mix of odd jobs and keeping my head above water to make a dollar,” Hurley revealed.
Rather than tangle with corporate ladders, he said he prefers employment on a more personal level with an even exchange of services. With modeling, he feels he provides students and teachers with “a vessel for their work.”
Answering an ad for Montserrat College of Art in Beverly and Gordon College in Wenham opened doors for creative ways to make a living. Word of mouth from the art community led to other modeling jobs which is how he landed in room 181 at MWCC.
Sometimes challenging poses cause aches and pains, despite working out three to five days a week. So when he has the choice, Hurley picks athletic poses to help stretch the muscles.
During his first nude session, he admitted to feeling nervous. “But then I realized we all have a body,” he said.
Hurley hopes his relaxed and uninhibited vibes help the students feel more at ease, too.