This week's Chicagoan: Roger Billhardt, nude model | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

This week's Chicagoan: Roger Billhardt, nude model 

"I don't go home with any women who paint me, and I don't accept any phone numbers."

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"I was in college, and in one of the dorms I found one of those pull-tab phone-number things, and it said 'Figure modeling for art classes.' I was like, 'Hey, what the hell, I'm in college. Why not?'

"Where I'm modeling now, it's a BYOB painting studio called Bottle and Bottega that hosts bachelorette parties and things like that. It's sort of the wine-drinking crowd—a lot of pretty excitable ladies. Sometimes it's a surprise for the women who attend; someone will set it up and say, 'We're going to go paint a flower in a vase,' and then I show up, and the whole room turns upside down. It can get pretty silly.

"I prefer if they don't touch me, but sometimes people have a few too many chardonnays. One time a woman who was a little bit overserved got up and tried to give me some dollar bills. But I'm not wearing anything—there's nowhere to put them—so she tried to jam them under my armpit and where the leg meets the rest of my body. That was crossing a line for me. Luckily the people I work with, they take care of me.

"Most of the time the women just ask me personal questions, like if I've got a girlfriend or a boyfriend, or they try to find out where I work during the day. Sometimes I just say I'm a mailman. A lot of them like to ask if I ever get aroused, and I say 'No,' and they ask, 'Why not?' I'm like, 'It's not that kind of place.' We keep it very much about coming out of there with a nice painting. We're not a strip club. And I'm a professional. I don't go home with any women who paint me, and I don't accept any phone numbers.

"When I started out, there was a couch, and I would do this cheesy lounging position. I felt like such a tool. Now I prefer to stand up. Sometimes they don't like to draw my hands because hands are very difficult to do, so they'll have me stick 'em behind my back. I must look like a huge dork up there, but apparently they like it.

"Before I started doing this, I'd be a little bit shy taking my shirt off at the beach. I'm a skinny pale white dude, and I'm not the fittest guy in the crowd, but now that I've started doing this, I feel a lot more confident in myself. If Chicago had a nude beach, I'd probably go hang out at it. But it would probably be full of old men.

"It's funny for me to see all these different iterations of my naked body. I imagine a lot of them are hanging up in people's houses. One time a friend of mine was on a Metra train, and he sent me a picture of four paintings of a naked person, saying, 'Is this you?' It was some women who had painted me that day—they were on the train, and my friend had run into them. They said, 'Oh yeah, that's Roger! You know Roger?' It really is a small world, and I'm floating around a lot of it. Naked."

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