Artist Cliff Harmon dies

Renowned painter was one of the last remaining Taos Moderns members


Renowned artist Cliff Harmon, 95, died peacefully in his sleep at high noon Wednesday (Aug. 29). He was at his home in Taos surrounded by his loving family, according to a statement from Harmon Studios.

“May he rest in the Happy Painter’s Ground,” the statement reads. He was one of the last remaining members of a group of artists termed Taos Moderns by author and curator David Witt.

Harmon was born June 26, 1923. His father, A. H. Harmon, owned the Harmon Stationary and Art Supply stores, first in Hollywood and later in Santa Monica, according to biographical information provided by Harmon Studios. "Many members of the art world came to the Harmon’s store to purchase their art supplies and Cliff grew up helping to prepare stretched canvases and present the various products. The family’s closest friend and mentor to Cliff was Lawton Parker who had lived in France during the Belle Époque. Along with Frederick Frieseke and Theodore Robinson, Lawton lived near and did plein air painting with Monet, and took active part in the art world of Paris during those days.”

Harmon served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, as a Sonarman on the anti-submarine Patrol Frigate, U.S.S. Casper. After his discharge, he began his studies at The Bisttram School of Fine Arts in Los Angeles and summer school in Taos, N.M. He settled in Taos in 1948 with his wife Barbara Sayre, also a student at Bisttram’s, daughter of the imminent California desert painter F. Grayson Sayre.

While building their adobe home and studios, Harmon continued his studies with Louis Ribak in Taos. In the winter of 1949 and 1950, he and Barbara went to Black Mountain College in North Carolina to explore the Bauhaus art design precepts of Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, and Joseph Albers by studying there with Joe Fiore.

In 1951, he was invited to show with the La Fonda Gallery Artist Group, which included most of the surviving members of the Taos Founders, the original artists who cemented Taos as an art colony in the world’s imagination. The gallery had been expanded to include the modern and new traditional painters who arrived in the 1930s and 1940s including Emil Bisttram, Ward Lockwood, Andrew Dasburg, Robert Ellis, and Leon Gaspard. Harmon was elected a permanent member in 1952.

During the 1950s Cliff and Barbara Harmon were also active in the Los Angeles and Glendale, California Art Associations. They were both elected as exhibiting members of the original Taos Artist’s Association in 1962 where they continued to exhibit for 18 years. For the Bertrand Russell Centennial Celebration held in London, Cliff was chosen to represent the state of New Mexico.

Harmon is represented in several thousand private collections as well as in the permanent Governor’s Collection at the New Mexico State Capitol building, the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, the Harwood Museum of Art of the University of New Mexico in Taos, Taos Historic Museums, Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, all in New Mexico. His work is also in the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, the Oklahoma Art Center, as well as the Ashville Art Museum and the Black Mountain College Museum, both of North Carolina.

“Harmon’s painting is generally based on the color theories promulgated by Joseph Albers including the concept of color change as demonstrated in Albers’ series, ‘Homage to the Square,’” the online bio states. "There is also the visual phenomenon when two colors of opposite hue, but of the same value or chroma are adjacent. Such as, when a black line or sometimes a white line, seem to separate the two colors and impart an implicit luminosity. Another visual effect that Harmon discovered on his own came from his use of flat areas of color, sans shading or chiaroscuro. When two or more slightly different values of a color are side by side, a modeling from lighter to darker seems to the eye to take place. His personal technique of flat areas of color of different hues placed side by side visually appear as if modeled.”

His work over the latter decades, including more than 670 “Earth Forms” series landscapes, has been the imaging of what have been described “horizon” paintings. "His work depicts in an abstract form, the long vistas of the warm desert hues of the Southwest, contrasting with the cool hues and greens along llano and laguna. In this series, serene coloring and luminosity display the sense of tranquility in the landscape that has been his characteristic way,” the bio states.

In 1987, after a journey, which he had wanted to make since high school, to Thailand, Bali, and Java, he was inspired to paint a series based on the Hindu “Gupta” style. Which includes, The Apsaris, or tree spirits, consorts of the gods, and dancing girls of Buddha before his enlightenment, as they are depicted in the bas reliefs’ of Buddha’s life on the Stupa at Borobudur in Java.

In 2011, the Taos Historic Museums had a retrospective exhibition of his work at the E.L. Blumenschein house and Museum, titled, “Cliff Harmon, 65 Years of Painting in Taos.” Simultaneously, another retrospective of his past and present work was given at the Hulse/Warman Gallery, also in Taos.

He received the first of the Charles Strong Lifetime Achievement Awards given at the Taos Fall Arts Festival in 2013.

Information about services and internment is pending.


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