Works on Paper
Though H.C. Westermann is known primarily as a sculptor of witty and carefully crafted objects, his vivid drawings and illustrated letters constitute a body of work commensurate with the achievement of his most accomplished sculptures. He began sending letters while serving on the U.S.S. Enterprise during World War II – some ten years before making his first sculpture – which typically paired personal messages with punchy drawings. This signature blend of text and image developed into Westermann’s mature drawing style, typified by a particular brand of slapstick humor, saturated color, pressurized narrative, and contoured lines. Drawing remained a central aspect of Westermann’s practice for the rest of his life, through subsequent tours of duty, cross-country road trips, time spent in Chicago and San Francisco, and ultimately the years he spent with his wife, Joanna Beall Westermann, in Brookfield Center, Connecticut. Indeed, she recalls him spending “a couple of hours every morning writing and drawing.”
Westermann’s works on paper offer a comprehensive picture of his idiosyncratic worldview. Populated with a cast of repeating characters and persistent forms – forlorn soldiers, stylized self-portraits, feral animals, and his trademark Death Ships – Westermann’s drawings served numerous purposes throughout his life. He sent them to friends and fellow artists to update them on his travels; he made studies for images that later became lithographs; and he drew images of his sculptures to inform galleries of his production. Notable works on view include a suite of drawings featured in “Eye Infection,” the celebrated exhibition curated by Robert Storr at the Stedelijk Museum in 2001; Green Planet (1967), a preparatory drawing for a lithograph of the same name, held in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Terrifying Sea Picture (1966), which features a death ship and an oversized shark fin, two of Westermann’s most iconic images. He made many of these drawings in Connecticut, where, starting in 1969, he spent twelve years building a house and two studios for himself and his wife. Bringing to the construction of his house a level of detail found in his sculpture, Westermann’s home and studio have been called his “greatest work of art.” Complimenting the works on view, a portion of Westermann’s own studio will be installed in the gallery.