Harry Carmean in 1985

The American artist Harry Carmean was a man for whom the exploration of erotic art came late in a long life, freed and inspired by the meeting of a like spirit in fellow artist Miriam Slater, thirty years his junior, who became his student, model, muse, lover, partner and promoter. Between the mid-1980s and 2010 he produced hundreds of drawings and paintings of figures engaged in exuberant sex, many of which only became widely known as he approached his nineties and the internet provided an appropriate platform.

Miriam, who Harry married in 1986, was his fourth try at marriage; he had already had four children with his third wife Marne, the inspiration for his ‘family paintings’ of the 1960s, and he and Miriam went on to have two more. Harry had grown up in rural southern Kansas before moving to California, where in his twenties he pursued a singing career and was being scouted for the movies, but with the start of American involvement in the second world war he joined the army and served in France and Germany. Before returning home, he studied at L’École de Beaux Arts in Paris, which introduced him to the world of fine art. Back in the USA, he began his studies at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where he met Lorser Feitelson, the source of Harry’s deep knowledge of the old masters which gave his paintings and drawings their distinctive look.  Harry went on to teach figurative art at Art Center College of Design for 43 years, where he influenced thousands of students.

In the 1960s, with a large young family, he began a series of paintings featuring a family theme, done in a simple manner with muted colours. It was at this time that Carmean came into his own as a painter, and he appeared regularly on Feitelson’s award-winning television show Feitelson on Art. During his long career he explored many aspects of creativity, including lithography, and sculpture reminiscent of Rodin.

Carmean in his Santa Barbara studio, 2001

In the late 1980s his style became looser and more impressionist, and he began a new series of paintings depicting acrobats and dancers. In 1997, when he retired from teaching at the Art Center, he and Miriam moved from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, where he built a studio and continued to draw and paint well into his nineties.

The official Harry Carmean website, curated by Miriam Slater, can be found here, with many examples of his mainstream work including early paintings. The site also has a blog, but the last entry was in 2013; Slater now continues the regular updates on Carmean, his life and work at the Harry Carmean Facebook page, which you will find here.

We would like to thank our Russian friend and contributor Yuri for introducing us to the work of this artist and supplying many of the images.


Example illustration