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Man makes impression as a nude model
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

As a freshman at the University of Michigan, Roger Billhardt saw flyers on campus for various clubs, organizations, and more. He spotted the one for the art school, which was looking for figure models.

He had never done anything like that, but admittedly is a thrill-seeker, "and that seemed like a thrill." So he signed up for the gig.

"I don't know what came over me, but I was interested; I wanted to give it a shot, even though I didn't know anything about it," he said.

Read more story below....

Billhardt did it twice while in college—pose naked, that is.

After graduating and eventually moving back to his native Chicago, Billhardt returned to work as a figure model because "I found that I needed to make a little more money." He was poking around on Craigslist and spotted an ad for "a nude model."

He auditioned, which entailed getting naked to confirm he did not have any offensive tattoos—and was hired. The job requirements, he said with a laugh, are showing up on time and getting naked at the drop of a hat.

Billhardt is now a regular figure model at Bottles & Bottega, 2900 N. Lincoln Ave., in Lake View, where an evening out for others includes wine, laughs and painting—of their version of Billhardt's naked body.

He often models for two and a half hours, earning about $75, plus tips at times.

"Quite often, it's women who don't expect to [to be painting a naked man]. They may think they're painting a flower or a vase, but instead it turns out to be a fully grown, naked man," he said, laughing "They usually have a lot of questions and it's a lot of fun for them. I'm happy to answer their questions, within reason."

Billhardt is almost often asked if he has a girlfriend or boyfriend, and about his sexual orientation. Sometimes he tells the truth. "I lie to them because I like to have my [personal] life be a mystery to everyone but myself," he said.

But the real Billhardt is 27 and works as a marketing administrator at a midsize law firm. He is originally from the western suburbs, graduated from York High School in Elmhurst and has lived in Chicago for the past five years, now calling the Humboldt Park neighborhood home.

He is straight, and single.

At times, he tells the women who are painting him that he works for a law firm. At times he tells of another fictitious job, he said. "I don't expect to see these women again, or want them to know my life story. I really try not to mix what I do during the day with what I do at night," he said.

Billhardt said it is women painting him 98 percent of the time. And sometimes these women "have no shame, no filter" on things they ask, especially after a couple of glasses of wine, he said.

Often, he is asked if he is gay since he does not get erect while naked in a room filled with women.

"Being naked in front of people, in that setting, is not sexual, is not intimate or anything like that. So [getting erect] is not an issue for me; other male figure models may have that problem," Billhardt said.

Billhardt said his law firm is not aware of his evening job—well, at least he doesn't think so.

One colleague definitely knows, as she learned about his dual life after searching his name on Google.

"Maybe others know and they're just not letting on," he said. "For the most part, I try to keep it separate. Maybe they feel awkward asking me about it. But, if someone asked me about it, I wouldn't feel awkward mentioning it. To me, it's not taboo; it's a natural thing, an artistic thing."

Billhardt said the painting sessions are not the place where straight men go to paint a naked man. And yes, he has posed for a group of gay men.

He said posing naked for gay men is "not a problem at all."

Billhardt rarely keeps the paintings others make of him. "I have my own home décor, and I don't think a naked picture of me, drawn by a stranger, would fit," he said, laughing.

He added that he is not interested in pursuing relationships with women who have painted him.

Billhardt said his friends "were shocked" when they learned what he was doing. "They didn't picture me as the type of person to do it," he said. "Now, though, they all think it's hilarious," and they always want to hear stories of the job.

His extended family found out after learning about him and his job online. Some family members are fine with the job; some aren't, he admitted. "The way I look at it, this is art," he said. "I don't view this as anything unwholesome."

His dad "chuckled—thought it was funny" when he learned of his son's side job, Billhardt said. His late mom never knew, "but I think she'd be the one who was fascinated by this [job] and laughing," he said.

"It boils down to whether you view this as artistic or are confused and think it's sexual or intimate," he said.

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