Body of Work

Harry Carmean’s Nudes to Show at Westmont

by Michael Cervin

Art is a solitary business. You confront the canvas alone,”
Harry Carmean said. Carmean, who has a fanatical devotion to
drawing the human form, is considered to be one of the finest
figure painters alive. Thus it’s exciting to see that a
retrospective of his sketches of nudes is opening today, Thursday,
January 18, at Reynolds Gallery at Westmont College. The show spans
Carmean’s work from 1964 to 1999, and in addition to Carmean’s 13
drawings, there are another five by his wife, Miriam Slater.

Harry-Carmean-figure-drawin.jpgIt may seem surprising that Westmont, a
conservative Christian school, would exhibit a series of nudes, but
the college art program has offered figure drawing for five years,
and ultimately, this showing of Carmean and Slater’s work is
intended as a way for those life-drawing students to learn from
established artists. After studying at the Art Center in Los
Angeles under the charismatic Lorser Feitelson (who cofounded
Post-Surrealism), Carmean returned there to teach for 43 years. He
has earned the respect of galleries, critics, and collectors due to
his mastery of the human form; the Bacara Resort and Spa, for
example, purchased one of Carmean’s paintings for their restaurant
two years ago.

Carmean is always eager to discuss his process and “the Greek
emphasis on form” he employs. In describing his drawings — some of
which are pure black and white, and others of which are referred to
as tones, because of their restricted use of color — Carmean said
he sees them as studies. Watching Carmean draw, one notices that,
while he may now be a master draughtsman, he remains ever the
student. I had the opportunity to watch him work at his studio in
the desert last year as he sketched a nude model. His use of pencil
and charcoal is delicate, yet forceful. The simplest of lines is
executed with a combination of abandon and thought. For example,
Carmean speaks about the “rhythm and counter-rhythm” of his
strokes, and of the “tempo” of a line as it begins at a woman’s
shoulder, then curves into the shape of her hip. The success of
Carmean’s work owes much to this habitual alternation of

1Harry-Carmean-figure-drawi.jpg“I compose in contrasts,” he said, “in
the same way we live with one thing counterbalancing another: the
sharp with the soft, the straight with the curve, the even with the
uneven, and the quiet with the loud.” The current show is filled
with examples of Carmean’s characteristic counterbalances. The
harsh line of a spine of a man is balanced by his rounded
shoulders, his twisting torso turning away from straightened

Carmean’s wife attributes Westmont’s decision to host this
retrospective of nude drawings to “forward thinking.” Slater said
she sees the classic style of rendering the human form as coming
back into vogue, and feels the figures she and her husband draw are
“beyond trends.” These drawings, intended to show the “nuts and
bolts” of figure work, as Slater put it, nevertheless make for a
stunning, thoroughly finished show.

However, there are some things you won’t be seeing at the
Reynolds Gallery: the so-called coffee cup sketches Carmean and
Slater have passed back and forth to each other for years. These
quickly drawn sketches are quite sexually explicit — nudes doing
very nude things. After six decades, Carmean still has a taste for
the risqué and continues to enjoy the process and the fun of it
all. The canvas may have to be confronted alone, but the beauty of
the human form is something we can all share.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.