Through various periods in art history, artists such as Leonardo DaVinci, Rembrandt and Pablo Picasso have focused on the human form. Yet, say local artists, it's still quite unusual for contemporary galleries to focus specifically on nudes.

"Painting and drawing the human figure has been happening for centuries. It's a perfectly normal thing," said Judy McBride, who's been painting for most of her life. "We painted a lot of nudes in our arts classes but weren't able to show them."

So several local artists are showing that capturing the essence of the human form is akin to artistically recording the beauty of nature through "Homage to the Nude in Art," at the aRt Cottage in downtown Concord through Jan 26.

They are featuring drawings and paintings representing the beauty of the human form. Artwork includes quick gestural drawings, and long studies, some in pencil and pastel, others in watercolor, oils and acrylics by artists all over the county.

Out of the 50 years she's been painting, McBride has focused on the human form in her drawings and paintings for the last 20 years.

"The fact that this show is happening is unusual," said McBride, who started taking figure drawing and painting at Civic Arts Education.

Sarah Gross said the human body has always been her favorite subject because she's interested in people.

"I'm excited because there aren't many shows that concentrate on showing nudes," said Gross.

It's bizarre that showing nude paintings has been considered controversial for some people, she said. When Gross was in college in Minnesota, she remembers drawing "nudes" clothed in bathing suits.

"So when I went to grad school in California, I walked into an art class and there was actually a nude model," Gross said.

There's no shame in the human body because, "This is how we look," she said.

"When I draw nudes I end up concentrating on the face," Gross said. "I like drawing the figure but the focus ends up pointing toward the face. It expresses who the person is. I'm a realist and draw what I see. I can see a little more into the person when I can see the face."

Pam McCauley first painted still life before focusing on the human form in her watercolors, and continues to fine tune her skills at figure painting sessions along with many of the artists whose work is featured in the show. McCauley said that the human figure is a much more dynamic subject and that she didn't want to paint apples and oranges all her life.

"In three of the four paintings, I tried to capture movement or a gesture," McCauley said. "To me, it seems almost a miracle that a still picture can capture motion."

In one, a young woman is seen walking with her head turned as if she has seen or heard something that caught her attention. In another, a young woman is rising from a chair. In "Naked Romp," a woman is pictured five times as if dancing, McCauley said.

"Also, I love the organic lines of the human body which I featured in 'Reclining Figure,'" she said. "Each person, large, small, male, female, old or young, is unique and interesting to paint or draw."

McBride said she's thrilled she and her husband, Keith Modenbach -- whose work of black and white photographs -- have their work in the same show.

She said that for her, the success of a painting depends on how well the art model -- draped or nude -- expresses herself or himself.

"It's not about how still they sit," McBride said. "It's about them allowing their essence and vulnerability to show. Even if the pose is conventional, if they're able to show us who they are -- that contributes to the success of the painting."

If an artist can capture the essence of a subject, then viewers can connect with the paintings of human figures they see, McBride said.

"The human figure is the ultimate subject in art," Gross said. "It's also one of the hardest things -- to make the model look human and alive. Art helps us understand the world and ourselves."

if you go
WHAT: "Homage to the Nude in Art"
WHEN: Through Jan. 26
WHERE: aRt Cottage, 2238 Mt. Diablo St., Concord
INFORMATION: Gallery hours 9-5 weekdays; 1-5, weekends. Call 925-381-9854