Nude Girl: My Life as an Object
begins with a question you always ask of your Redivider interviewees.
Of what does a typical day in the life of Kathleen Rooney consist?
If it’s a weekday, which it usually is, I will get up early
and ride either the redline El or the pretty bike that I won during
Mayor Daley’s Bike to Work Week from my neighborhood up in
Edgewater downtown to the Loop. I will enter a tall, black, and
glassy Federal Building designed by the great architect Ludwig Mies
van der Rohe and go up very high in the elevators to the 38th floor.
Then I will go into the office where I work, and I will work. I
will spend time in between work-related tasks collaborating with
my co-author Elisa Gabbert on poems or translations over email.
After work, I will go back up to Edgewater, maybe go do some yoga,
maybe cook something with my husband, hopefully do some writing,
read some blogs, read some books and take care of business for Rose
Metal Press, the publisher I help run with Abby Beckel.
did you begin to work as an artists' model? Do you still do it?
The really detailed answer to this question is in the book, but
briefly: I was living in DC at the time, finishing up my last year
of undergrad, and I had had a decent part time job in an art gallery
that abruptly came to an end. I needed to find another job quickly.
A friend of mine who had been working with me at the gallery, and
who had also learned that her job would be disappearing, came over
for lunch and we sat there eating peanut butter sandwiches and paging
through the classifieds of the City Paper. (Isn’t that strange?
Looking for a job in the newspaper? This was just slightly before
such sites as Craigslist became a Big Deal.) I saw this ad that
said “BE A PART OF ART” calling for nude models at the
Corcoran College of Art and Design in Georgetown, and dared my friend
to call and then she double-dared me back so I called them up right
then and within just a few days I was standing in a studio taking
my clothes off in front of 20 complete strangers.
At the moment, since I a now have a “real job” in the
traditional 9-to-5 sense, I do not have a lot of time to work as
an artists’ model anymore. It’s been a little over a
year since the last time I posed, and I have to say that I really
people find out that you work as an artists' model, how do they
react? How do your friends and family feel about it?
I try not to make a big deal over that part of my life (I mean,
aside from writing a book about it), particularly at my aforementioned
day job for fear of hurting my or my employer’s credibility.
That said, a lot of people think it’s cool, and a surprising
number of them have either done it themselves or know someone who
has. It’s like this secret community of individuals who have
this rewarding, interesting, helpful job that most people outside
of the arts are only vaguely aware exists. Other people think it’s
weird or scary or even kind of inappropriate, but almost everyone
wants to know a) how I got started, and b) what it’s like.
Most of my friends are supportive, although a few of them have said
that they think it might be one of those allegedly empowering, feminist
jobs that is secretly oppressive and self-exploitive, but I think
that these people do not really understand what the job entails.
As for my family, my middle sister is a professional photographer,
and has worked with the nude herself, so she doesn’t bat an
eyelash; she understands the long tradition of depicting the (frequently
unclothed) human body in art as a way to address themes of beauty,
mortality, mystery, sexuality, etc. My parents, on the other hand,
find nude modeling rather risqué and impolite so, for the
sake of family harmony, the subject has been tacitly placed on our
list of Things We Simply Do Not Talk About.
it strange to be used as the raw material of someone else's creative
process? Was this ever frustrating, or did it make it easier to
understand the artists you with and for whom you worked?
At first, it was incredibly strange to be used as the raw material
of someone else’s creative process, especially because I kept
thinking how odd it is that for thousands of years, some people’s
nude bodies have been used as the jumping off point for other people’s
art. Then, like almost everything else, I got used to it.
Quite a few of the other artists’ models I either worked with
or ran into at various art schools in DC and Boston told me they
viewed themselves as collaborators more than raw material, and some
of them even said that they felt almost equally as important as
the painters or sculptors or photographers themselves. While I would
never go so far as to say that—I remain convinced that, although
art modeling certainly takes skill and imagination, it is much more
difficult to make a painting or sculpture or photograph than it
is to pose for one—I do see what they mean by feeling as though
the artist-model relationship is in some sense a collaborative one.
The relationship between an artist and his or her model is unlike
any other relationship I can think of, and at its best it can be
intimate and entertaining and satisfying. A bad model can wreck
a class or session, whereas a good one can be a kind of partner
or at least an encouragement. I think that because I am a writer
myself, I was able to become friends with—and to achieve a
rare kind of sympathy with—quite a few of the artists I posed
for, especially the ones I worked with one-on-one in their private
studios as opposed to in a big class full of lots of people.
Deciding to make a painting or to write a poem is a risky move;
most of the time, the general population could not care less whether
you do or do not do something creative. So I found it inspiring
to work with these artists who in many cases were putting a lot
on the line to live the kinds of lives they wanted and to create
the kinds of things they wanted to create. I hope that some of them
felt the same about working with me.
What are you working on these days?
These days, I am working on collaborative poetry and translations
of the French poet Max Jacob with Elisa Gabbert. If you are so inclined
(maybe you have an office job where you sometimes have to “look
busy”?) can read about our process and outcomes on our blog,
Even the Details Have
I am also finishing up a collection of 12 linked personal essays
called For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs which
is due to be published in 2010, which sounds incredibly far away
now, but probably isn’t actually. I am also taking lots of
notes, doing lots of research, and making plans for what I hope
will be my next big project: a novel. I have never written one,
so it freaks me out a little just to type that. Besides actual writing
projects, I am getting ready to do a bunch of readings this fall—many
of them with Brandi
Homan who is the author of the collection Hard
Reds, as well as one of my editors—in support of my first
solo poetry collection Oneiromance, published by Switchback
Additionally, Rose Metal Press has its lineup set all the way through
mid-2010, so Abby and I are working on getting these books into
the world, including Tinderbox Lawn by Carol
Guess, Color Plates by Adam Golaski, The Rose Metal
Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction edited by Tara
L. Masih, and The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose
Poetry co-edited by Gary
L. McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek. Keep an eye out for them!