Charley Harper has been one of my favorite illustrators since I first discovered his work a few years ago. His ability to capture life and complex scenes in nature in their most distilled down forms is what attracts me most to his work. Rather than painting every strand of fur or feather, Charley Harper took the opposite approach in his work and left only what was necessary to depict his subjects in a style he calls “minimal realism.” Using simplified shapes and forms and vibrant color palettes, the animals Harper paints seem to almost come alive before our very eyes. Harper did not paint animals merely sitting and facing the viewer; his love for bird-watching and the naturalist lifestyle is evident in his composition choices. Harper paints his subjects going about their daily activities in their natural environments, undisturbed by the viewer.
Charley Harper lived and worked in Cincinnati, OH with his wife Edie Harper. A graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati, he first began to make a name for himself in the late fifties after illustrating the The Golden Book of Biology, which now sells for nearly $200 on ebay. Harper also regularly contributed illustrations to Ford Motor Company’s Ford Times magazine for two decades. His work was extremely popular and sold as screenprints which still available for purchase today.
Charley Harper also created over 50 environmental and biodiversity themed posters for non-profit conservation groups, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and nature preserves over the span of his career. His brilliant use of composition, shape and color all work harmoniously to create visually striking, wildly complex yet simplified images. Harper once said of his work, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe.”