College is undoubtedly a time to explore newfound freedom—from parents, from curfews, from the long hours of a high school day. But Venya Gushchin, CC '18, has found a freedom that's a little more unorthodox—a freedom from clothes. While the rest of you layer up for a chilly fall, Venya's shedding his garments so that other Columbia students can sketch his naked body.
Originally from Russia, Venya grew up in Maryland. Besides nude modeling, Venya is interested in comparative literature and linguistics. I sat down with Venya to get the deets on what it's like to rock his birthday suit in front of a room full of prying eyes.
Jess: How and why did you get into nude modeling?
Venya: I saw it at the Activities Fair and decided, yeah, this is something I've wanted to do, that it would be a cool experience. And I just signed up, they called me in for a session, and I came.
JG: Was there any kind of training involved?
VG: They basically told me how long I'd be holding each of the poses for, all the way from 30 seconds to 20 minutes. Yeah, the longest pose is 20 minutes. They told me vary it up between standing, sitting, lying so that there's a nice variety. They offered me pillows so that I'd be more comfortable. So yeah, I wouldn't call it training, but they definitely told me how to do some of the things.
JG: How do you prepare for a session? Are there any routines you go through to get you in the mood to meditate?
VG: No, I just basically come to the session, they tell me to go whenever I'm ready, and I just take my clothes off and walk out there. It's pretty straightforward. I was nervous literally just the first time, while coming out there on the platform, but from then on it was fine. Once I'm out on the platform, everyone is just so supportive and really professional about it.
JG: What are some recurring thoughts you find yourself having during a session?
VG: During a session, I usually don't try to make eye contact or look at the people drawing me or what they're drawing. I mostly look at the ceiling or think about my own day and stuff like that. It's really just a calming, sort of meditating, experience. I managed to even to take a nap during one of the 20-minute poses. Yeah, it was a really comfortable pose, so I just managed to, uh yeah, close my eyes and just drift off.
JG: How do you feel when you do inevitably make eye contact with a member of the class?
VG: It does happen sometimes, but I know that they are looking at me as they would look at a bowl of fruit, so it's not that awkward. I don't actively seek their eye contact, but I don't actively stray away from it.
JG: What do you think when you see someone's sketch of you?
VG: I am just curious—like, how do I look? If I could have one of the sketches, that would be so cool. That would be so interesting. Next time I do it, I'll ask.
JG: What's your best story from nude modeling so far?
VG: Well, I guess the best would be when I first had to fill out taxes. I had to fill out a W4 form, and yeah, because I didn't come to the session five minutes early, I had to actually fill out the W4 in the little break we had between the two hours. So I filled out taxes naked. While there were other people in the room. So, honestly that was really the most awkward part.
JG: How has your role as a nude model changed your view of art?
VG: As I said before, I know that they look at me as a bowl of fruit. I'm sort of their—I don't want to say muse, but yes, sort of their muse, not to make it too poetic. But, yeah, it's just really interesting how central I am. Like at the end of every session, they applaud me for doing it. For being comfortable enough to do this. And that's just a wonderful, positive boost that I get.
JG: How has this experience affected your view of body image, in regard to yourself and other people?
VG: Well, I've alway been comfortable with my body. I know that there are things that I want to improve about it, but I've always had a sort of healthy body image. So it just makes me feel that more people should be like that, and we should get over the squeamishness that we have about nudity. That's my biggest thing, the squeamishness associated with it.
JG: What philosophical bit have you learned about life through this experience?
VG: I learned that you can really find inspiration in anything. I never considered my body to be a work of art. But after glancing at a few sketches, after being applauded for being comfortable, I saw that you can really find beauty in anything. That anything can be art.
JG: When's your next gig?
VG: I'm not sure yet. Still waiting to get another call. But I'll definitely say yes.