Any assignment such as this, where the odds of an exposed nipple are a nigh certainty, immediately triggers prolonged internal strife over whether or not the article is to include, in any derivative or form, the word, “titillate.”
But never mind; let’s first review some of the ground rules: All sessions are without instruction (a little odd as it’s billed as a class). Bring your own drawing materials—and no messy, odorous, or liquid media, please. No photographs (we got an exception). No drawing materials, no entry. Got it—it really isn’t (supposed to be) voyeurism. No loud talking and silence your cell phone. The last rule you probably first practiced in kindergarten, but has a saucier implication in this unambiguously adult context: “clean up after yourselves.”
It’s called The Keyhole Sessions, and they’re not kidding when they say it’s “the closest you’ll get to debauchery on a Tuesday night.”
Nestled in the funkiest patch of Ossington Street, this unusual life-drawing class is run by graphic designer by day, Sonya J.F. Barnett. Eager for a break from the computer and a way back to more fundamental artistic expression, Sonya audited a few life-drawing classes around town but found them too static and disorganized for her tastes.
Sonya’s is a slim figure of medium height, topped by a dark Anna Wintour bob. Despite her all-black attire, she effuses a magnetic warmth that belies her size. Preferring a lot more raunch in her art than a typical class will provide, TKS allows her to indulge her fascination with exhibitionism and also shibari, the Japanese art of erotic rope bondage.
The space itself is a somewhat ordinary, rectangular dance studio complete with a high ceiling, mirrored wall, and a few small strips of black tape on the laminated wood floor. On one end, two giant black curtains guard the two gigantic windows, while on the other, a skylight lets in the only natural light. There are four small industrial floor lamps focused on a small, low platform.
Sonya starts on time. From a back corner, little iPod-powered speakers offer music that’s mostly jazzy, soulful, and ethereal. There is only one model for the first part. Tonight, ours is Kat: a pretty, short-cropped platinum blonde who enters wrapped in a dalmation-print robe with red piping. On the platform, Kat drops the robe to reveal a black and white two-piece bathing suit of the sort that may’ve been popular in the ’60s. She’s sporting Jackie-O sunglasses, lifebuoy-red lipstick, and a large straw sunhat. The first few poses are held for only one minute as warm ups (I think for both her and us). Sonya keeps time, always giving you fair warning before it’s time to switch. Kat moves confidently from pose to pose, without the slightest hesitation, each of them as if styled by an art director for some high-fashion magazine. She’s at the beach, on vacation without a care in the world. It’s all on a string.
Then we move to a series of two-minute poses and toward the end of these, nipples make their first appearance. There are six participants tonight, not including Torontoist, and not a one skips a beat or line. Some five-minute poses follow and one fifteen-minute pose closes the first half. You now have a padful of very interesting art made in a safe, nurturing environment.
The twenty-minute break is welcome and you’ve already got your money’s worth (it’s only twelve dollars per session), but don’t you dare leave. The next half is the real bonus because they take it up a knot. In the second “act,” a second model is introduced and so is the aforementioned art of shibari. At this stage—the class is only three weeks old—the shibari is kinder to artists of delicate constitution but Sonya plans to work with her shibari expert and the models to include even more intricate binds.
Our second model, Mara, wears her brownish-auburn hair short, accented with swatches of bright red and orange. She has on black, calf-high lace-up boots; a navy-blue cropped, long-sleeve silk jacket that’s artfully tattered; a gold medallion at her neck; and darkened aviator goggles on top of her head. And nothing else. All complemented with a great smile and a comfortable-in-her-own-skin demeanor. She evokes an image of a sexy, gothic Amelia Earhart.
Mara, unsurprisingly, has a different style, often posing with her arms wide. She goes through her warm-up cycle of short holds before making room on the platform for both her and Kat. There are a few poses of them together, then Mara solo for a while as Kat gets trussed by the shibari expert.
Kat returns with a broom-thick wooden pole held behind her head, resting across her shoulders. Her wrists (to about halfway up her forearms, really) are bound to the pole with some red finger-thick rope. The expression on her face is no longer one of carefree satisfaction but of contemplative submission. Mara matches the mood and the two of them negotiate some arresting poses together until time is up again.
For certain, these sessions will bunch many an undergarment. Some may recoil in shock and fear, but many will see it simply as an interesting date, a cheeky good time, or, here it is, a titillating escape from the usual Tuesday doldrums. For seeking artists, it is a way to connect with the indescribable. For good or ill, you won’t forget it.
The Keyhole Sessions are held every Tuesday night, from 8–10 p.m.
Photos by H.C. Tinglin/Torontoist.